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A DISABLED war veteran says he is distraught after being stripped of benefits days before Christmas in a “Kafkaesque nightmare.”
Morning Star reader and ex-RAF man Jonathan Williams, 56, served with the UN in Bosnia. He was trapped under fire in the siege of Sarajevo, leaving him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mr Williams also served several tours of duty in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and on exercise in the Arctic Circle was injured when a helicopter landed on him.
He left the military on a 60 per cent war pension and managed to secure an archaeology degree from Cardiff University. However, his PTSD became overwhelming and prevented him from working.
Since 2001 he received incapacity benefits, with multiple doctors assessing him as unfit to work. But all that changed last year when he was reassessed for employment & support allowance (ESA) by an agency worker.
Mr Williams says the worker showed “no interest at all in my PTSD and the effect it has on me” and had no expertise in mental health.
He was read questions from a script about whether he could sit up straight and walk 10 yards.
The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) then claimed that Mr Williams had “no limited capability for work” and cut off his £100-a-week benefits.
When his local MP, Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, raised this with the DWP, the department claimed to have “introduced a number of concessions to allow service and ex-service personnel to access benefits more easily” — despite Mr Williams’s experience.
Bizarrely, it also said that “entitlement to ESA is not based on an individual’s health conditions or disabilities.”
Mr Williams says he has “fallen through the cracks” and is worried that “a hell of a lot of people, not just veterans, will be in the same situation.”
He is now relying solely on his war pension and has had to move back in with his two elderly parents, whom he cares for 24 hours a day.
If he wants to apply for universal credit, he will have to go through job interviews, which he says his condition prevents him from doing and “makes me even more depressed and very ill.”
He contacted the Morning Star after reading our coverage of fellow veteran Gus Hales, who is campaigning for better mental-health support for veterans with PTSD.
Both men used to receive support from the charity Combat Stress, but that care was stopped following a series of cuts to its funding and management issues.
Mr Williams say veterans have been “used by government and thrown away like rubbish.” He has even returned his war medals to the Queen, in “disgust at how veterans have been treated.”
“I’m expected to be wheeled out every Remembrance Day and then forgotten about.”
Last night Mr Williams told the Star how he joined the military in the 1980s to escape a “dead end job” at a bomb factory in south Wales.
He said: “There were virtually zero opportunities. I was living in the eastern-most valley of coal industry and two pits were closed within a year. I could see the writing on the wall.
“As a teenager I thought the only way to get out of this would be if I was good at sport or formed a band, but I was no good at any of those things.
“So joining up seemed to be the only escape from a life of working shifts.
“Anyone who joined the forces in the ’80s and ’90s and was working class, that’s going to be a major part of their back story.
“Everyone came from post-industrial deprived areas. The forces were sweeping up the economic leftovers.
“I did a lot in my forces career, nearly got killed in a helicopter accident and permanently injured my shoulder.
“But now the government wants to squeeze more out of me despite medical professionals saying my PTSD is a lifelong condition and it’s not going to change.”
The DWP has been approached for comment.
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