A project is underway in Cheshire to help stop ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen from re-offending.
When 20-year-old Lee Blackledge was discharged from the Army after being jailed for assault, his dreams were shattered.
The problems he faced on his release from prison were similar to those confronting many with service records. Many veterans struggling to come to terms with life as a civilian find themselves in trouble with the law. Drink, drugs and homelessness can be common factors in their lives.
'When I came out of prison I panicked because I didn’t know what I was going to do for money and I didn’t know what help was available,' Lee says.
Now a veteran support initiative is underway in Cheshire to help stop veterans from re-offending, and acknowledges the specific problems faced by ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen.
One of the main driving forces behind the project is Warrington-based probation service officer Alan Lilly - the county’s first designated Veterans’ Support Coordinator.
Alan’s role has rapidly taken on greater significance. It is thought that about 12,000 former servicemen and servicewomen were being supervised by the probation service in England and Wales, either on community sentences or prison licence.
A veteran himself, Alan is aware that the problems facing service personnel on discharge can be many and varied and are exacerbated if the veteran has suffered physical or psychological trauma.
Alan says: 'More than half of the ex-service community have a long term illness or disability and more than one fifth of them have multiple conditions.'
Probation officers involved in offender management have now been alerted to the situation so that veterans are identified at an early stage, for instance when a pre-sentence report is being prepared for the courts.
At present a survey is being carried out throughout Cheshire in which all ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen attending for supervision or unpaid work are being asked to complete a questionnaire detailing their service and whether they have a GP.
In addition, ex-servicemen like Lee are being asked to identify what’s been difficult for them since discharge from the Armed Forces.
Lee says: 'I was luckier than many because my family was very supportive and I’ve been able to find a job but it’s great that there is a now a support network in place,' he said.
Probation services throughout England and Wales will be keeping an eye on the results of the Cheshire survey, which is expected to be analysed by October.
Alan says: 'We hope the survey will show us what the common issues are shared by Veteran offenders.'
'This will enable us, prisons and partnership agencies to have a better idea where and when to target our efforts,' he adds.