Joe Walker, 40, served nearly 20 years in the Army including in Germany, Canada, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Belize and Kenya before he was medically discharged in 2014. He was injured in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2005. He spent two years rehabilitating and was later diagnosed with PTSD. Afterwards he served as the Queen’s Pony Major with responsibility for the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s Shetland pony mascot. On leaving the Army, Joe found himself unable to work with nowhere to live and was forced to declare himself homeless. He turned to Glasgow Helping Heroes and SSAFA for support and now has a roof over his head and does what he can to help fellow veterans who are struggling.
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Joe said: “I joined the Army in 1994, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (later 2 Scots). I got blown up in Iraq during my 2004/05 tour. I was driving a Snatch Land Rover and it got hit by an IED. My side of the vehicle took the impact.”
Joe was flown back to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham for treatment. He had received serious back injuries and required reconstructive surgery and many months of rehabilitation.
He said: “I’ve got titanium in L4 and L5 now. I was going backwards and forwards to Selly Oak for a couple of years for treatments. It was a bit of a rollercoaster. My daughter was only six months old when it happened so she didn’t really know what had happened. My partner and I split up after that. I just didn’t know how to express myself. I just kept saying, ‘I’m alright, I’m alright’.
“I was medically discharged in 2014. I was a bit shocked and saddened when it did happen. I was quite low and I think I felt a bit betrayed to be honest. You realise you are just a number at the end of the day. I was a boy soldier - it’s what I always wanted to do. There was a resettlement package but it wasn’t up to much and I felt like I was just left.
“When I came out I was homeless. I remember I had these eight boxes and nowhere to take them. I was sofa surfing but you can’t keep asking for favours and I spent a few nights sleeping outside. I was sleeping in the park for a bit but none of my family knew about that. I think it’s a pride thing. If your head’s not in the right place it’s hard to ask for help. At the time you don’t realise it though. I had never been in that situation before.”
In the end Joe went to stay at a homeless hostel – the first step on the road towards getting his own home. He said: “A lot of my family didn’t know I was in there. I didn’t like to tell them. People say, you should have said something, but it’s hard to. I stayed there for a month and I was lucky to be offered housing quickly. I had a housing worker who I had to go and see every second day and I was at the door of her office when it opened. I took the flat as soon as I saw it. It didn’t have any flooring and I didn’t have any furniture. I slept on a camp bed for three months - I didn’t want to ask for anything. I ended up going to Glasgow Helping Heroes and SSAFA. SSAFA got me all sorts - a voucher for paint, a new cooker, carpets – they helped to make my house a home.
“I don’t think the Army prepares you well for civilian life. They deduct things like rent from your wages so you don’t have to think about budgeting. You just get left to your own devices when you come out. Unfortunately, I can’t work because of the PTSD and my back problems. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2010 and I think there is a lot more awareness of it now than there was. There’s no cure so it’s all about how you manage it. I don’t sleep very well but that’s common. I get some mates call me at 3am when they’re having problems. Problems like PTSD aren’t limited to office hours.”
Joe would urge anyone struggling to cope with life after serving in the Armed Forces to seek out the support that is available. He said: “I think you’re brainwashed in a sense when you’re serving. You must not show weakness, you must not show fear. If there are veterans out there now who are having similar problems I would say just ask for help – forget your pride and ask for help.”