Legion Scotland launch scheme of new grants to help Scotland’s veterans

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A leading Veterans charity has launched new grants to give financial support to ex servicemen and women struggling to make ends meet, almost 100 years since it was first set up to help soldiers coming home from WW1.
 
A 35 year old veteran who was left with nothing after thieves broke into his house and the parents of a miracle squaddie who was shot in the head in Iraq have backed the new grants for veterans and their families. 

Legion Scotland, trading name of Royal British Legion Scotland, launched the Legion Veterans fund today after a rise in enquires from veterans with many struggling to pay their rent or mortgage and a travel grant to help families pay for expensive costs to visit a seriously ill or injured personnel getting treatment outside Scotland, where there is no military medical unit.

In the last year Legion Scotland’s wellbeing department has seen an increase of 32% in enquiries from veterans asking for financial assistance.

Neil McPhee, 35, has struggled to find work since he left the Army in 2000 after serving five years with the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, including several tours in Northern Ireland. Neil, from Greenock, has welcomed the new fund to help veterans struggling to make ends meet. Neil has suffered ill health since leaving the army and is still trying to find work after he couldn’t continue in the construction industry when he started to suffer blackouts.

A few months ago the father of two had to clean out his savings after a break in at his home. His partner is seven months pregnant.  Neil was referred to Legion Scotland wellbeing service for advice and is one of the first to apply for help through the new Legion Veterans Fund.

“I was struggling when I came home and found it really difficult to find work. When I got ill it was even harder. A few months ago we had a break in. They stole a few things including my laptop and damaged all our white goods and even took a hammer to our bed frames. I was so angry at the time but I had to keep it together for my family’s sake.”

“I didn’t know what help was available from charities. Legion Scotland helped me get the assistance I needed. I think there should be more help like this for veterans. There’s not enough support out there to help you get back on your feet when you leave military life and you are trying to get work.”

The new Legion Veterans Fund is one of three new grants for veterans and their families. A new grant is also available to help families resident in Scotland to visit their relatives being treated in hospitals long distances away that have been seriously injured or are seriously ill. The TravelAid fund is open to any close relative of injured or seriously ill service personnel. 

Sergeant Alistair McKinney was shot in the head by a Taliban sniper in Afghanistan in August 2006. He is now in a wheelchair, completely paralysed down one side due to brain damage and has left side blindness in both eyes. 

As his parents face a new battle as they move home to Scotland to get the hero a house that is fit to meet his needs, they have welcomed a new grant from charity Legion Scotland to help families visit a loved one who is sick or injured.

It’s eight years since the heart wrenching day when Frank and Josephine got the knock on the door Alistair was out cold for two weeks and initially treated in Pakistan.  For the next two years his parents travelled to see Alistair twice a week while he received treatment at the Headley Court Tri-Service Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey and at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham Neurological unit. Frank recalls the Christmas of 2006 when Alistair was the only patient left in the unit over the holidays.

His Dad Frank said, “It was heartbreaking enough to see him struggling with movement and speech. They gave us this wee room. So we decorated it for him, stayed with him all day and then slept in a nearby hotel.”

Frank, 64, served in the Army for 22 years in the same regiment as Alistair, the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish. He welcomed the new Travel Aid fund as a vital support for families at a time when veterans are trying to overcome trauma during recovery and need more support from their families who can’t always afford to visit them.

“We were lucky. I could manage to travel with my job. It could have been very different for us. I know families who couldn’t afford to visit their loved ones without financial help. It’s great to know there is something put in place by Legion Scotland to help families at a time when they are need. We are looking forward to being involved in Legion Scotland and grateful for the help and support we have been given to date.”

Alistair, 42, is due to move to Largs with his mum and dad Josie and Frank, who care for him at their home currently in Shropshire. The family lived in Kilbirnie after Frank left the Army and want to move home to be close to Alistair’s brother Kevin and his sister Louise. Alistair will also be able to see his son Owen, 14. The family is also getting support from Legion Scotland to secure funding for the adaptation of their new house in Largs.

Alistair joined the Air Corps at 16 before transferring to the Infantry and during his twenty years service he picked up seven medals. He was a sniper instructor and instructor for motorbikes and all other vehicles and a real outdoors enthusiast who loved his job.

Frank, who took early retirement to look after Alistair and his wife Josephine, 63, said without the help and support from Legion Scotland the family would be lost.  “We have had more help from Legion Scotland than we have from organisations based down here. We were so proud when Alistair signed up and after he served his country there were so many promises made of support that were not kept. It makes a difference to get the help we need when it feels like you have been forgotten by others.”

Legion Scotland launched the programme of grants for veterans and their families on Armed Forces Day – as they celebrate ninety three years since they first set up in Edinburgh in June 1921 to help ex  servicemen who returned from WW1.

Stephen Baird, National Wellbeing Coordinator for Legion Scotland said, “Legion Scotland is launching a new programme of grants to give something back to veterans. We have found an increase in the number of ex servicemen and women coming to us for financial support.

“Whether it’s paying their rent or travelling to visit a loved one who is injured or going to pay respects at the grave of a loved one overseas we hope these new grants will help meet the needs of veterans and their families around Scotland.”

On the centenary year of World War One Legion Scotland is still meeting the needs of veterans and their families and supporting remembrance. Among the new grants launched this week is also a fund for relatives to visit the grave or memorial of a family member killed in action in conflicts overseas. 

The War Graves visit grant will provide a contribution to the cost of Scots visiting graves of loved ones killed in the First or Second world Wars.  Brian McLeod, Secretary of Legion Scotland Hawick branch has welcomed the new grants. Brian, who is battling prostate cancer, served in the Kings Own Scottish Borders for over 26 years saw service in Northern Ireland, Germany, Borneo and Hong Kong. 

Brian, 67, grew up in Germany after WW2 and witnessed survivors of Belsen Concentration camp when he was just three years old.  His Great Uncle George McLeod who served in the Royal Scots was first reported missing and then later it was confirmed he was killed in action at age 18. 

Brian said, “I was born and bred in the military. My father served during WW2 and survived being shot in the heart on a training session with the TA. He died at age 58 on Remembrance Day. His Grave is too far away for me to visit. But I would love to find out what I can about my other family killed overseas.

“I found out recently that my friend had spotted my Great Uncle’s name on a grave in Belgium. I really don’t know for sure what happened to him. He was lost presumed dead.  This fund will help me visit his grave and that I can find out what really happened to him.”

The War Graves visit fund will contribute to the travel costs for a family member and carer to visit the grave of a loved one for the first time up to £400.  Two new grants were also launched to help communities to start a new Legion Scotland branch and for innovative projects to commemorate the centenary of WW1.

Further information on all the grants above please contact: Stephen Baird on 0131 550 1560 or email s.baird@legionscotland.org.uk