A former British Army soldier from Eastbourne who fought in Afghanistan has spoken of his struggle to survive since he returned to civilian life.
Twenty-eight-year-old Nick Underdown says he has been unable to get a permanent job, is forced to sleep on friends’ sofas and take food handouts from charity
The former Lance Bombardier with the Royal Artillery appeared on ITV News this week as he returned to his home town of Eastbourne to look for work and rebuild his life.
The television interview came as the military charity SSAFA revealed it was helping more young veterans than ever before and say more than half are unable to afford basic essentials and a similar number are unemployed.
The Ministry of Defence said it was “absolutely focused on supporting working age veterans”, with more funding recently announced for charities but Mr Underdown has backed calls for more help for those returning to civilian life.
He was in the Army for six years before leaving in 2013.
He says he has been doing odd jobs ever since but has not landed permanent employment due to physical or mental problems.
He told ITV News he would do pretty much anything to get by.
“It feels like failure all the time,” Mr Underdown said.
“Job after job after job, and not getting anywhere. And when you are unemployed you feel like you can’t get employed.
“Having rejection emails coming through is exactly what it feels like: being rejected, you’re not good enough. You are but it just puts a right downer on your situation when you feel like you can’t get anywhere.”
A once proud soldier, Mr Underdown says he now has to survive on handouts.
“I’ve gone days without food before,” he said. “A few days at least.
“We’re told stories of life after the army can be quite tough when you first join. I never thought that would be me, never.
“I’m 28 years old and I’m an ex-soldier. It’s not somewhere I thought I’d be.”
Research by SSAFA shows 45 per cent of those it helps are under the age of 44. More than half of those surveyed cannot afford essentials and three-quarters suffer from long-term illnesses.
Its report says many live in fear of debt and admit to feeling depressed and lacking self-esteem. Many believe they have been disadvantaged by their service and feel poorly treated compared to veterans in places such as the USA.
SSAFA chief executive David Murray said, “Our research has identified an underclass of veterans living in pretty desperate circumstances, often through no fault of their own. These men and women are being forgotten; their plight is too easily ignored.”
The Ministry of Defence said it had developed schemes to deliver career guidance and to help find housing and expert healthcare.
“We are absolutely focused on supporting working age veterans,” a spokesman said.
“Just last week we allocated £14 million in bank fines to military charities to help those most in need. But we know that there is more to do and we will study the report.”
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