"I feel like I'm again" - Troubled Army vets help fix the driver shortage

One ex-soldier is willing to assist UK veterans who have difficulty finding work after returning to civilian life.

"I feel like I'm again" - Troubled Army vets help fix the driver shortage

One ex-soldier is willing to assist UK veterans who have difficulty finding work after returning to civilian life.

"Take your time, be calm, and check your mirrors."

Darren Wright is training a new recruit as an HGV driver. His fellow ex-military friends are many in the group. For the past 19 months, the 46-year old has run Veterans into Logistics, a non-profit organization in Greater Manchester.

He says, "We take in veterans who are having difficulty finding employment." "We reach out, we wrap our arms around them, and we support them in becoming HGV drivers."

According to government figures, of the 952,000 veterans who were working in 2017, 28,000 were unemployed.

Darren believes that there is a lack in support for people who have left the armed forces but don't have a trade or skill. Many of the people he meets struggle with low self-confidence or have mental health issues.

He says, "They trust me a lot." He said, "I can talk with them and say, 'Listen, mate, it's been there, I understand what it's like. But trust me, let’s get you trained up and get you a job.

Darren was raised on a north Manchester council estate and left school without any qualifications. At 23 he joined the Army and served five years as a paratrooper and gunner in 21 Battery, 47 Regiment Royal Artillery. After a tour in Afghanistan, he was discharged with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It was hard to return to civilian life. He says, "I was all over," and that he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. I was in a very bad place at that time. My marriage broke down. I was homeless. I was couch surfing. "I didn't want it to be here."

His life spiraled out of control after he was involved in a gangland kidnapping.

"I wasn't well when I looked back at myself. I was not mentally well. It's obvious that I wouldn’t do it now. If I was a normal person, I wouldn’t have done this then. Darren says that his life was a complete mess.

"I regret the kidnapping and the damage it caused his family and me over the past 11 years."

Darren was sent to prison for PTSD treatment. This changed his life. He says, "I came out as me, I wanted life, I wanted my future."

To earn an income, he used his HGV license, which he obtained in the Army, and became a tanker driver. He found structure, stability, financial security, and a purpose for his life through it. After attending the funeral of a friend who had lost his life within a year after leaving the Army, Darren realized he wanted more to help veterans.

His work is prevention. He says, "Preventing someone becoming homeless, preventing their suicide attempts, and preventing them ending up in jail." "Why should a veteran sleep on the streets when they can sleep in a truck?

Ex-military personnel are good HGV drivers, he says. They have the ability to be disciplined and trained to think quickly. Many have had experience driving large vehicles in the military. An HGV license can be a career for you, as there is a shortage of qualified drivers for HGVs in the UK.

Ex-soldier Daniel Birch (35), says that "the minute [Darren] handed my the sheet of how much it could earn my hands were shaking." "I thought, "I've never made that much money in my entire life."

Daniel joined the Army as a young man in his 20s. He was a member of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards for four years. This included performing ceremonial duties at Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace. He was also a part of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, which included a tour to Afghanistan. He still recalls how his fellow soldiers were hurt by IEDs.

Daniel says, "It really is similar to what you see on a movie." "When it happened, there was a moment of silence when you were taking in the events. Then you hear the screaming the next minute and it's hard to put into words. It sounds like someone is begging for help.

His transition to civilian life was smooth. Finding a job was the hardest thing. The only job that I was qualified for when I left school was as a healthcare assistant. The wages were horrible, and I was able to stay in the same job for three more years. My PS11,000 per year was a zero-hour contract.

After changing jobs twice, things started to get worse when his father was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. He explains that when his dad was diagnosed with cancer, it became a lot more difficult for him mentally.

Louise, Daniel's partner, also gave birth to their youngest child. However, health issues meant that the baby spent the first month in hospital. Worster-Drought syndrome was later discovered to be a condition that affects the muscles surrounding the mouth and throat. Their eldest son, who was also diagnosed with cerebral paralysis, was also diagnosed.

Daniel says, "It hit me at once." He also said, "so I couldn’t go work. And obviously, if you can’t go work, you can’t stay in your job. My job was terminated.

They became carer for their sons and rely on an allowance to cover the costs of caring. His confidence was affected by being out of work. He says, "It knocks you pride big time." "I enjoy working and earning my wages."

Daniel was ready to go back to work four years later when his children started school. His partner had heard of Veterans into Logistics and Daniel sent them an email. Although it is difficult for him to ask for help, he did so. Daniel passed the theory, medical and driving tests in 2021 and is now a qualified HGV driver. He works for a national dairy company.

He said, "I feel like myself again." "Because when I wasn’t working, and with all that happened, I think my self-esteem and ability to function was destroyed."

Darren believes it is "the greatest feeling" to see the positive impact that employment has on veterans he trains. They're often feeling down at the beginning, and can't see a way out. But once they have support and are able to find work, and are earning a decent income, they become completely different people.

You can watch We are England: Veterans Road to Recovery (BBC iPlayer).

The BBC Action Line can provide support and advice for anyone who is affected by any of these issues.

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