Falkirk Veterans working with police to help past and present armed forces members

Falkirk Veterans are always looking for new members to get involved with the group. Picture: Michael Gillen
Falkirk Veterans are always looking for new members to get involved with the group. Picture: Michael Gillen

Members of the Armed Forces put their lives on the line for their country, meaning they will often have to deal with experiences many of us could never understand.

For current and former serving personnel, being in the army, the navy or the air force is, or has been, a way of life and some simply do not know any different.

Difficulties can arise for such individuals, however, when making the transition back into regular civilian life, or civvy street as it’s also known.

Unfortunately, the sights some service personnel or veterans have seen, or the professional way of life which they have become accustomed to, can cause problems when it comes to integrating back into mainstream society, sometimes resulting in brushes with the law.

In an effort to address this issue, a new partnership has been set up between Falkirk Veterans and the district’s police force to support past and present members of the armed forces who have fallen on hard times.

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Maggie Brown, Falkirk Veterans founder and chairwoman, has become increasingly aware of this particular challenge since setting the group up at its base in The Royal British Legion in Grangemouth two years ago.

In turn, she made contact with Chief Superintendent Thom McLoughlin and Community Inspector Ewan Wilson who were quick to get on board with the idea of spreading the word about Falkirk Veterans to ensure serving and ex-serving men and women stay on the straight and narrow.

Maggie said: “A lot of veterans or serving personnel, because of trauma-related injuries, can get into all sorts of trouble.

“The thing I wanted to know was what the police would do in the event a veteran was in the middle of a road, crouching and shouting ‘incoming’.

“Would they know what to do? And Ewan said no, not really. I had mentioned about a first aid military mental health course and it was Ewan who asked one of his constables to be the first one to do this.

“This is specifically to learn how to ground people and find out where they are in such situations.

“A lot of these guys are very isolated and they’re looking for a certain language that we have and it’s all to do with where they’ve been and what they’ve done.

“The meetings are getting busier every week. I think possibly because the leaflets are in the police station they’re seen more.”

Officers also view this new working partnership in a positive light. The force employs many men and women with an Armed Forces background and has been making the most of the opportunity to lend a helping hand to such individuals in their time of need.

Chief Superintendent McLoughlin said: “I genuinely believe that Falkirk Veterans can make a real difference in supporting our veterans and provide a formidable network for ex-military personnel from around the Forth Valley area.

“We can never underestimate the commitment and sacrifice made by our military personnel, and for that, they have our enduring gratitude.

“Police Scotland are committed to supporting veterans across Scotland and locally.

“Should my officers have cause to engage with anyone with a military background, they will signpost them in the direction of the Falkirk Veterans and help to grow the military network.

“Having worked closely with the military over the years, I know only too well the value placed upon camaraderie, fellowship and being part of a team.

“Falkirk Veterans will continue to promote this ethos after military service and provide support to those who need it.”

Community Inspector Wilson added: “If people come into the cells, we ask the question if they are a serving or ex-serving military person and if they say yes, we’ve got a leaflet we’ll give them to point them towards Falkirk Veterans.

“If Maggie and her group can do something then great. If we can stop people coming back to the cells by signposting them to Falkirk Veterans, it’s giving somebody a second chance to use the service and make new friends.”

Falkirk Veterans originally began as a drop-in service and had four members who would meet over some rolls and bacon and enjoy a chat. Now, though, thanks to the many benefits it offers, the group welcomes around 40 members to its weekly sessions, which provide a range of services including mental health counselling and housing or welfare advice.

Organisers believe the welcoming environment and sense of camaraderie those who attend experience can have a life-changing impact.

One such example involves a man who had not left his home for 15 years but is now a regular attendee who also takes part in Falkirk Veterans’ free trips out to events such as the Edinburgh Tattoo and Bravehound dog shows, which support former servicemen, women and their families.

The group can also grant members access to a walled garden in Falkirk’s Callendar Park and works in conjunction with Jupiter Wildlife Centre in Grangemouth to allow members to build their own garden furniture.

Falkirk woman Maggie, who is ex-army herself, insists the family-like atmosphere Falkirk Veterans’ members generate is the most fundamental and beneficial aspect of the group.

She explained: “When someone leaves service, they’ve lost their identity. They feel lost because everything is very regimented in the military, you know exactly what you’re doing, what to wear, where to go.

“When you’re in the forces you’re conditioned to succeed, to overcome any adversity, so you’re Superman or Superwoman.

“When you’re in civvy street you no longer have that so you are very lost. When you come back to something like this, you build confidence from the banter.

“It’s like being back in the military. That can then build confidence for these guys to seek the help that they need. We look after each other and would welcome more family members.”

Dawn Chedid, a Falkirk Veterans member since August, said: “From the moment I’ve come in I’ve felt welcome. It’s the highlight of my week. Anything you’re bothered about, there are all these people to talk to.”

Fellow veteran John Fitzpatrick, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, reached out to the group two years ago.

He said: “I look forward to it every Thursday. The days out are tremendous.”

Falkirk Veterans meets on Thursdays at The Royal British Legion in Dundas Street, Grangemouth (11am-2pm) where tea, coffee and warm filled rolls are provided for free. The group has also launched a lunch club on Wednesdays, offering soup and warm refreshments from 12-2pm for £1.50.

All current or former 
service personnel are 
welcome.