Armed Forces Week gave us a timely opportunity to reflect on just how important our servicemen and women are, and to thank them for their sacrifice. Our heroes have found themselves serving on a very different front line since the pandemic, and they've stepped up to the challenge.
We’re shining a light on the Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS), a charity that continues to make a huge difference to military personnel while having to adapt during these times of change. But first, may we introduce our client, Andy Barlow, who has been talking to us about handling pressurised situations many years after experiencing a life-changing injury on the battlefield.
Andy to have around
Andy Barlow joined the British Army in 2003 and served with the 1st and 2nd Battalions and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Three years later, aged just 19, Andy and his unit became trapped in a minefield in the Kajaki Dam area of Helmand Province. He was badly injured and ended up losing his left foot but was still able to help save his colleagues; incredible bravery that led to him receiving the George Medal for Gallantry.
The astonishing account of what happened to Andy and the rest of his unit has been immortalised in the feature film, Kajaki: The True Story, but for our client this was the starting point of the rest of his life. When Andy was in a hospital bed, looking at a sheet covering his leg, he thought to himself “I’m faced with a choice; I either pull the sheet back and deal with reality or hide from it”. Andy has never hidden from anything in his life.
Andy started skiing just two years later, and took part in the Sochi Winter Paralympics in 2014. "After my accident, sport gave me an opportunity to challenge myself and to succeed, it gave me freedom and it allowed me to be active again.". Andy doesn’t hold back when he talks about the impact disability sport has had on his rehabilitation, and is proud of his accomplishments.
Andy retired from the Army in 2014 to pursue his sporting careers. Fast forward to today, he’s an Outreach Officer for the South for BLESMA, the military charity for limbless veterans, and is relishing having the chance to support people who have gone through the same trauma that he went through. "I want to create groups where veterans can talk to each other and vent with people who have the same experiences", says Andy, who knows plenty about transitioning back to a life you never planned for.
During Armed Forces Week, Andy was the star of our virtual event ‘Making Decisions under Pressure’. He talked about how his military training prepared him for that fateful day at the Kajaki Dam and the decisions taken by his team and his seniors.
VIDEO The inside track on DMWS
The Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS) is an independent charity offering help and support to the Armed Forces community, their families and other frontline staff. They’ve cared for those who served since 1943, with a promise that no one has to go through the worry of illness or injury alone.
The Welfare Officers at DMWS are on hand to provide comprehensive and confidential welfare support to patients and their loved ones and primary care givers, 24/7, 365 days a year. This is tailored to their needs and circumstances so they get the right help and guidance at a time when they need it most.
Our military injuries team work closely with charities up and down the country and understand the crucial role they play in supporting the armed forces community.
Andrew Buckham is a Partner in our legal team and is also a trustee at DMWS. We spoke to Andrew to find out more about the great work they do.
Why is the DMWS so important and just who do they support?
The DMWS is such a key part of the military and veteran welfare support network. Their welfare officers provide support to military personnel, veterans and their families, they help in NHS hospitals and make a massive difference in the community.
They really are the ‘front line troops’ of the welfare world and are often the first point of contact for our servicemen and women and their families when they are injured. They have a long and storied history of providing this vital support and are the only civilian welfare organisation that deploys on military operations.
How impressive has it been to see the DMWS adapt and continue to offer a service, despite all the change?
From the welfare teams having to work remotely across the UK, to supporting key NHS facilities, to finding practical and innovative ways to continue to support the military community in these unprecedented times, the DMWS adapted very quickly to meet the challenges that have been put forward by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role as a Trustee?
I work with the other Trustee Board members in supporting the charity’s management team to ensure that DMWS’s objectives are met and the needs of the beneficiaries are always put first. We also offer help and guidance to make sure the charity is accountable, their resources and assets are managed responsibly and that they comply with the governing law.
How important are our relationships with charities and what difference does it make?
Having knowledge and understanding of the military and welfare sector means we’re able to refer clients to organisations that can provide amazing support and help across a variety of issues.
Our partnership with these charities also means that we can support their fundraising activities and key initiatives that create positive change and help those in need.
A helping hand at a crucial time
2020 has affected families, individuals and livelihoods across the UK and the world in ways none of us could have ever imagined. Many of us have lost loved ones unexpectedly and under incredibly difficult circumstances. However, in this time of extreme struggle a real sense of community has been formed, we’ve gone above and beyond to do what we can to support those we care about and those looking after us when we need it the most. The work of the DMWS has epitomised this.
By extending their welfare support to other frontline services such as the police, the probation service and the NHS, they’ve been invaluable at such a crucial time. Using their unique knowledge, experience and skills, they’ve been able to offer vital support to veterans, active servicemen and women, and their colleagues in the NHS during the pandemic.
Their roles may have changed but their purpose hasn’t; to help people during their most critical time of need. Many people have struggled with fears and anxiety; worried about how they’ll get their essential supplies and social isolation. To combat this, the DMWS have been able to continue to support and volunteer for the NHS. They’ve helped deliver food, essential medication and even toiletries to isolated veterans and front line workers. By creating spaces within hospitals for staff to go for rest, refreshments and a chat they’ve also looked after the wellbeing of NHS staff.
A service built on over 100 years of history
During World War I, the Joint War Committee was formed. The Order of St John of Jerusalem (The Order) and the British Red Cross Society (The Society) came together to provide personnel to assist the medical officers in military hospitals worldwide. To ensure their work could continue during times of peace, in 1919 the Joint Council was established between The Order and The Society.
The Joint War Committee and the Joint Council merged in 1944, and was known as the Joint Committee. They were responsible for providing welfare support in service hospitals and medical facilities all over the world. Later, they became known as the Service Hospital Welfare Department (SHWD) and adapted their role to complement and underpin the clinical work of their medical colleagues. Wherever the military were, the welfare officers would also be found.
The SHWD continued to provide their invaluable service after World War II in military hospitals, wherever the British Armed Forces were, including Aden, Palestine and Egypt. In 2001, the DMWS emerged as a separate organisation from the Joint Committee. They remain the only military charity to deploy to areas of conflict, working alongside medical staff in the Field Hospitals in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Service personnel are now treated in NHS hospitals and clinics if they’re overseas, since the closure of the British Military hospitals in recent years. If our servicemen or women are abroad when they suffer an injury or illness they may be flown back to the UK, to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, for further treatment. The DMWS have Welfare Officers based in the city to support the patients from the moment they arrive.
A light that never goes out
It’s clear that in times of change, the DMWS commitment remains the same – to continue to care for those who serve or have served.
They’ve helped many of our clients and thousands of current and ex-servicemen and women when they don’t know where to turn.
The charity has had their own challenges during the pandemic and need help so they can continue to support so many others.
Find out more about the charity and how you can support them. Our military team give thanks
In a year like no other, our current and ex-servicemen and women found themselves serving on a very different front line and stepped up to the challenge. On Armed Forces Day, we wanted to thank those who sacrifice so much and do everything they can to keep us safe.
Watch the message from our military team here.
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