Combat Stress: Veteran will fight to stop changes at Newport centre
"Combat Stress gave me my life back. If you're sat in the corner crying, you don't feel ashamed. We aren't just what the army made us – these killing machines. If I hadn't gone there last November, I'd be dead by now."
Those are the words of Pete Neale, a veteran who served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia and who is helping to lead the fight against the reduction of services at mental health charity Combat Stress.
Around 30 jobs are at risk at the charity, which is struggling to cover the costs of its services.
It is thought that at least some of the redundancies will be at Combat Stress’s treatment facility in Newport.
The job losses are part of a five-year restructuring plan which, the charity said, would “offer greater flexibility and accessibility to treatment so veterans can be supported more quickly”.
But father-of-six Pete, 42, who went through the six-week residential programme aimed at teaching coping methods and depression management, said the outpatient treatment suggested couldn't replace the longer team options.
"Combat Stress is important because it's our lifeline," he said. "It's our safe place.
"When I started, they asked me what I wanted from it. I said if they can give me 10 per cent of my life back, I'd be happy. I've probably got 60 per cent of my life back now. My kids have got their dad back. I still have my down days, but they're few and far apart. I never get suicidal thoughts anymore. It's all down to Combat Stress.
"I'm going to fight all the way to try and save it. I'll take this to my last breath. If I haven't got Audley Court I've got nothing."
More than 360 people have joined the Save Audley Court Combat Stress Facebook group since it was started last week, many of them veterans who have experienced the help on offer first hand.
Some will be attending a protest outside Audley Court from 11am on October 13, while others are offering their support and experiences from around the country.
The group is filled with memories of Audley Court, and shock and disappointment that services may be lost.
Pete said veterans who met at the treatment centre are a "band of brothers and sisters", always happy to help each other when needed.
Without that support network, and without the staff at Audley Court, he feels his life could be very different.
Holly Ayres, of Combat Stress, said: "We wish to reassure everyone in Shropshire that we are not proposing to close our treatment centre at Audley Court. We propose to continue to provide outpatient treatment from the centre.
"We are consulting with our employees on service design proposals that will enable us to provide more flexible and sustainable treatment programmes to fit in with veterans’ work and family life commitments. This will allow us to support former servicemen and women, more quickly and more flexibly.
"We will continue to deliver residential programmes at our two other treatment centres in Ayrshire and in Surrey. From January 2018 we propose to offer our new outpatient service, which will start to be available from Audley Court.
"If any veterans would like to comment on the proposals for our services, we invite them to email firstname.lastname@example.org"
Loss of charity ‘a concern’ – MP
Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard has spoken of his concern over the risk of losing services at Combat Stress.
Mr Pritchard said he hoped the board of the charity would reconsider their proposals – and listen to the concern of staff and clients at Audley Court.
“Combat Stress do a great job in caring for our armed forces veterans – they are a testament to all mental health professionals,” he said.
“Post traumatic stress and post traumatic stress disorder can be a life changing and debilitating condition, but with the right treatment and support neither have to be permanent or irrevocable.
“That is why the early intervention and ongoing support of charities like Combat Stress is so important. The staff at Audley Court are a vital part of that care provision for veterans.
“That is why I am very concerned. Whilst caring for people at home and more locally may have many practical and real treatment benefits, in my view, there will always be a need for in-patient care, delivered in a residential unit, where close monitoring of patients can take place, and where more intensive counselling and treatments can be offered.
“Residential care also provides respite for family members and other carers - who themselves sometimes need their own space from those they care for - and mostly out of sight. These home carers need the support of charities too.”