A service that offers vital help to the Armed Forces community in Scotland is celebrating its 10th anniversary today.
The Armed Service Advice Project (ASAP) has helped a total of 15,900 clients over the decade since 2010, putting a total of £17.6m into their pockets through welfare benefits, unpaid wages, compensation and other funding sources.
ASAP is run by Citizens Advice Scotland and funded by a coalition of military charities, led by Poppyscotland. It offers specialist advice and support to veterans, and also to people who are currently serving in the forces, and their families.
ASAP National Organiser, Claire Williams, says,
"It's hard to believe it's been a whole decade since we were set up. Today I'm incredibly proud of our advisers and workers across Scotland. They have transformed the lives of 15,900 people who were really struggling.
"Most ex-service people get through life OK, but like everyone else, they sometimes do need support with things like debt, poverty, housing or work issues.
"Of course the Citizens Advice network helps people with these issues every day, but those who have served, those still serving, and their families often have particular needs and unique circumstances, so they need a slightly different type of support. That's what ASAP is all about. Our advisers work through the CAB network, so they can use all the expertise and resources there, but they have that extra knowledge to enable them to support people from the Armed Forces community and access the right solutions for them.
"Seeing a client come through the door looking like the whole world is on their shoulders, and then seeing them leave with a smile, full of relief, is just such a wonderful feeling. Our first ten years is just the beginning. We know there are many more people out there who are struggling and need our help, so we urge them to contact ASAP today."
Citizens Advice Scotland's Chief Executive, Derek Mitchell, says,
"The Citizens Advice network is rooted in every community in Scotland, not just geographically but in terms of the different social groups as well. In addition to our generalist advice service, we have a number of projects dedicated to helping particular communities, and ASAP is a great example of that.
"The money that ASAP has put back in the pockets of these people is just one of the ways that the service has helped them. It doesn't include the practical and emotional one-to-one support our advisers have given. But it is one way of measuring the huge success of the project. And that money will be spent in local shops, so it helps local communities too.
"So today I want everyone from the Armed Forces community in Scotland to know that if they are having problems of any kind, our help is just a phone call or an email away. Please come and talk to us, and we will help you through whatever your problem is. We welcome calls from family members too."
Poppyscotland Chief Executive Mark Collins, says,
“When Poppyscotland, in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland, first established ASAP in 2010 it was a smaller service. Today it has a national footprint and members of the Armed Forces community are able to access the vital support provided by its expert advisers, wherever they are based.
“Collaboration and partnership working lies at the heart of everything we do and the coalition of funders working together with Citizens Advice Scotland has brought about remarkable results. For every £1 invested by the funders, ASAP has generated £4.43 of client financial gain. That delivers an outstanding impact to those who have been supported.
“I want to thank all the ASAP workers across Scotland over the last decade for their hard work and dedication. And our message today to all military personnel, veterans and their families is that ASAP is here to help you too with any problem you have."
Notes to editors:
The Armed Service Advice Project was set up in 2010, by Citizens Advice Scotland and Poppyscotland, and is also supported by ABF The Soldier's Charity, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, SSAFA – The Armed Forces Charity’s Scottish Resources Committee and Officers Association Scotland.
ASAP is run by the Citizens Advice network, with trained advisers based in Citizens Advice Bureaux across Scotland. The service is free, confidential and impartial. ASAP advice can be accessed at any CAB in Scotland, or online at www.adviceasap.org.uk or by calling the national ASAP helpline. 0808 800 1007
Bruce Fraser, Inverkeithing, ex-army.
Bruce served in the army for 25 years. Now an active member of many veterans associations, he spends a lot of his time assisting other veterans with advice. He listens to their problems and points them in the right direction.
Bruce has a war pension and was on Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) so never had any financial problems himself – until his DLA was stopped and he was told to claim the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) instead. Like many people, he found himself unsure how to proceed and had to seek assistance. This was difficult for Bruce to do as he is used to being the person that other veterans look to for advice, and it was very hard for him to ask for the help he needed.
But he did, and ASAP helped him make his claim – which was successful. But we believe he is eligible for an enhanced payment and we are currently pursuing this on his behalf.
“I left school aged 15 in 1968, and joined the Junior Army. At 17 I joined the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots. I was posted to Northern Ireland on my 18th birthday. Over the next 25 years I served in Greece, Norway, Denmark, Cyprus, Germany, the Ascension Islands, the Falkland Islands and Canada. I also served on the streets of Britain, clearing the streets and tackling fires during the dustmen and firemen strikes.
“In 1993 I completed my service, but by then I had a number of health problems, including osteoarthritis and nerve/muscle damage caused by years of lifting and carrying heavy weights, and some deafness due to not having ear defenders in my early years. My mental health problems and PTSD didn’t surface until years later, in 2015.
“In Cyprus we were there to help protect the local civilians after the Turkish invasion. The last memories stay in my head: throwing sweets to the local children as we drove away. To this day I don’t know if they survived. I often think, could we have done more? Was it my fault not to get them further to safety? And in Northern Ireland, we had bricks, bottles and petrol bombs thrown at us. Then the shootings and ambushes. I had three good friends murdered in the ‘Angels Executions.’ The last thing I said to them was. ‘Don’t come back in body bags.’ I often think of them, wonder what lives they would have led.
“I miss my military service like hell though. I had lots of good times along with the bad stuff. I made many friends, and I also met my wife Kathy through the army. She was in the Women’s Royal Army Corps. At that time when service-women got married they were automatically discharged from the army. Still, she chose me - and 47 years later we are still happy together have two daughters: one was in the army for a time and the other teaches disabled children and adults. I’m so proud of both of them.
“When my social security was changed from DLA to PIP, I did find it difficult to ask for help, as it is not in my nature to do that. But I’m so glad I did. The ASAP team couldn’t have been more helpful. And they don’t just do the job, they are also really friendly and always happy to talk. I now have some peace of mind, thanks to them.”
John Fuller, Fife, ex-army and ex-RAF
Last year John applied for a war pension, which has been granted but this has meant his social security has been reduced significantly – and we believe unfairly. Essentially, John’s welfare benefits changed when his care situation changed, so through no fault of his own he is the victim of a loophole in the system. ASAP is continuing to help John with his claim.
“I joined the Territorial Army in 1994 and then served in the regular army between 1996 and 1999, including a tour of service in Bosnia. Then I joined the RAF, and served there from 2000-2005. Unfortunately I had to leave, due to injury and issues with depression and anxiety. I’ve since been diagnosed with PTSD.
“I had a carer for a while, but she had to stop because she got pregnant. This meant my social security had to be changed and also I applied for my war pension, which affected my benefits too. It’s a complicated bureaucratic mess, but the bottom line is that my income has been cut substantially, and I believe wrongly. And ASAP agree with me and are helping me get things changed.
“I totally understand that my benefits have to be cut to take account of my pension, but the cut I am seeing is much higher than it should be, which can’t be right.
“I will continue to fight this, and am talking to MPs and others, but the help I have received from ASAP has been great. It’s really good to know you have people in your corner.”
Suzie Martin, Dairsie (nr St Andrews). Ex-Royal Navy
Suzie served in the WRNS and then the Royal Navy from 1987-1993. She was the first female Aircraft Controller in the navy, and received the NATO medal with the former Yugoslavia clasp.
Suzie left the navy to start a family, but then served as a police officer for 19 years. In 2014 she underwent a surgical procedure that went wrong and so had to leave her job. Her condition is debilitating and, having lived an active life, she now requires help to walk, bathe, prepare food etc. Her mental health has also been impacted and she has started to experience flashbacks to distressing incidents in the navy.
When she first came to ASAP Suzie was receiving no income, so we helped her claim the benefits she was entitled to, and we also put her in touch with organisations who have helped her socialise and deal with her PTSD.
“I joined the WRNS in 1987 as a Radar Plotter, then in 1989 I became an Assistant Air traffic controller, which I loved. At this time there was a new branch opening - Aircraft Controller - and I was allowed to apply as long as I volunteered for sea-going service. So in 1990 I became the first female AC at sea - which I am very proud of. Though when I did my live sea training it took me a while getting my sea legs, so a bucket became my best friend! But I passed with 97% overall and was so proud.
“My first sea-going draft was HMS Ark Royal. I was the only AC on board, so it was a very stressful, tiring job. As the branch was new it had a 50% shortfall, so as soon as the ship you were on came alongside another you were transferred to the other ship about to sail. In an 18 month period I was on various ships and only back in the UK for 2 months.
“Early in 1993 I was drafted to a ship heading to former Yugoslavia. They were expecting a male AC so there were no living quarters for me. I got assigned a cupboard, which was roughly the size of a NATO mattress! That ship rescued refugees who were escaping from the war, as well as carrying out patrols.
“One day the ship went on fire in the main machinery space. As I went on the flight deck after lunch there was huge black heavy smoke above the ship. It was mad, alarms sounding, people running, getting geared up for fighting the fire. My first task was to help water-wall the ship’s side, to try to stop the fire spreading. Then I made my way to the ops room and got both helicopters up in the air. We were fighting the fire for 5 hours. I know the captain and other high officers were looking at options, including abandon ship. Your training kicks in and you just get on with it. We had injuries and the helicopters took them to hospital. Eventually the fire was extinguished and they found two bodies of people who had tried to put the fire out.
“We arrived back to Plymouth in summer 1993, and I got married a week later and took about 6 weeks of leave that was due to me. On my return to yet another ship, which was sailing to the Gulf, I was flown off after a few weeks when I discovered I was pregnant. At this time I was advised that it would be best if I left the navy on 28 days notice. As a result I came back home with no house, no maternity leave or pay. I was also having flashbacks and other symptoms. but in the early 1990s PTSD was not so well known. I just threw myself into fitness and exercise, which helped me deal with the stuff from Bosnia.
“I joined Fife Constabulary and served just short of 20 years. Then in 2014 I started to experience pain and stiffness in my right foot and leg. I would struggle to move and get out of the police car, and if I had to chase or restrain a suspect I was in a lot of pain. I took painkillers and still carried on working. However it was not getting any better so I eventually agreed to an operation to flatten my toes and cut the ligament, which was causing the problem. It was a routine operation but it went wrong and I ended up with nerve damage. I now can't walk very far, and have no feeling in my right foot and leg up to my knee. I walk on my right heel as the ankle bone has fused.
“When I started to realise that I couldn't be an operational cop, the flashbacks started to increase, I didn't want to get out of bed, and wasn't taking care of myself. I was very anxious, uptight, scared to go outside, worried and stressed that I had no money coming in as I was on no pay from the police because I’d been off injured for a year. I had always kept fit, including running, cycling and open-sea rowing to help me deal with the stress of both the navy and the police. But as a result of my operation I couldn’t do these things any more, so my coping mechanisms had been taken away from me. I was having melt-downs, just staying in bed and not eating.
“It was at this point I was referred to ASAP, and they helped me get the social security I am entitled to (PIP), which helped me get a mobility scooter and a hand-controlled car. They also helped build my confidence so I could get out and socialise again. If it had not been for my ASAP adviser, Lorraine Reid, I would be still in that very dark place.”
John Tervet, Dundee, ex-army.
John was receiving benefits while he lived with his partner, and they had a joint claim. But when he separated from his partner he needed to re-apply and found he was not considered eligible for some of the benefits he had previously been claiming – including Severe Disability Payment. The CAB contacted the Council and eventually the payment was awarded, but he is now being told by the UK government that he must apply for Universal Credit rather than Employment Support Allowance (which he had previously been awarded and is still eligible for) – which will leave him worse off. It is a classic case of a bureaucratic mess with the citizen falling through the gaps.
“I served with the third armoured division in Germany from1981 to 1991. During this time I also served in detachments to 225 Field Ambulance in Dundee as a permanent staff instructor, and I also had couple of tours in Northern Ireland. I was an ambulance driver, in an armoured Saracen, and then had a later tour with the bomb disposal unit. I had various tours in Germany too, with The Blues and Royals and The Life Guards.
“I have had lots of trauma throughout life though - not just in the military but outside in civilian life too. I've just had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve, so am on the long road to recovery. And to have my financial situation sorted out for me has been such a weight off my mind.
“The work my adviser, Shona Ross, has done for me to sort out my benefits is outstanding, and the local CAB is outstanding too, totally amazing. The staff are fantastic, the help they’ve given to me is above and beyond.”