AROUND 9,600 serving armed forces personnel have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since last year, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Suicide, homelessness and prison are also consequences that can follow, and veteran John Riding-Woods found himself dangerously close to living on the streets until he was offered a way out as an apprentice at Forces Re-engineered, based in Queensway.

He was diagnosed with the disorder last year, after 18 years of service including tours to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

John said: “After the army I tried to look around for mainstream apprenticeships but a lot wouldn’t take me due to my age.

“Just before I was working at Forces Re-engineered I was on the verge of spiralling out of control, I was signed off work for a while due to PTSD and my partner carried me for six months doing everything for me.

“I was struggling with depression, anxiety , I wouldn’t go out on my own because I didn’t know what was going to happen, I didn’t feel safe or comfortable and it was a sad existence to live within four walls.

“And then I had a message from Steph, who set up Forces Re-engineered about an apprenticeship.

“If it weren’t for him and my partner I’d probably be in a gutter somewhere, they did save me from being a statistic.”

Stephan West launched his non-profit community interest company in January this year with the plan to be a car and motorcycle repair service with a difference.

The 16-year master technician has previously supervised many apprenticeships in the past but had the idea of offering apprenticeships to veterans since taking part in Bike Tours for the Wounded in 2014.

Stephan said: “The aim is we sustain all the costs of giving veterans a chance to retrain and become vehicle technicians whilst they are getting help with PTSD.

“We allow changes in the building that can accommodate them. For example all doors have different bell rings so you can’t surprise them. The idea is to create a low stress working environment so they can take their time.

“What people don’t realise about PTSD is it can come from a sight, a smell, a sound, to bringing certain things back, anything can do that.”

Forces Re-engineered currently runs a pilot apprenticeship scheme with three trainees from 28-40 years old.

Throughout their three-year multi industry apprenticeship, they attend Andover College once a week, and apprentices with PTSD also attend courses with charity Combat Stress to help cope with the disorder.

The Walworth Industrial Estate-based business has just been awarded a £750 business incentive grant from Test Valley Borough Council, which will go towards building a second ramp for the workshop.

TVBC councillor Iris Andersen presented Stephan with the cheque on Friday 22 September .

She said: “I admire Stephan for putting this up to give people back their lives and being a non-profit organisation, he works so hard in doing what he has done.

“I have worked very closely with him and he is always going out there to promote and support himself for the ambition he has to give people back their lives.”

Among the day to day tasks as an apprentice, one of John’s favourite projects is making tables out of glass and spare vehicle parts.

John said: “At the beginning I had big anger problems and making the tables helped me calm down.

“It’s very beneficial for me as it helps me focus and get away from everything, and seeing it at the end is like wow. The more weird and wonderful they are the better.”

Now getting back on his feet and learning to cope with his PTSD, John is hoping to study a masters in mechanical engineering after completing his apprenticeship.

He said: “I also hopefully will become a mentor myself. Having to deal with PTSD myself and to show it can work through believing in yourself and Combat Stress you can get through it.

“Now I’m just trying to take each day as it comes with the support from here and the college and my partner.

“With PTSD you are never going to be cured, we have a very different way of dealing with things and I would like to educate more people about it.”

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