The work we do affects people, changes lives. This is the bottom line. In this article series we meet a European professional and trace the effects of his or her work to a positive change in another person’s life.
In the first article of this series we meet Thore Clausen, a Danish NGO worker coordinating treatment grants for homecoming war veterans. His work has profoundly influenced the life of Per Larsen, a veteran who took the first steps in overcoming his psychological injuries at a folk high school.
Working for veterans’ cause
My daily work is to evaluate grant applications for treatment from veterans. Last year, we received 665 applications. That is almost two for each day!
Soldaterlegatet, the Soldiers Grant is a private Foundation supporting Danish war veterans with physical or psychological injuries. Our mission is to help veterans back to a normal life and we wish to teach our society that helping veterans who were sent out to the world’s most dangerous places by a parliamentary decision is absolutely a public issue.
I am responsible for both the daily work and the execution of the strategy.
It was really a coincidence that I ended up working for Soldaterlegatet. I started as caseworker and I had an excellent boss who gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about this topic. After my first year, the Head of Office unexpectedly left and I was fortunate to fill the position.
Thore Clausen, 38
- Head of Office at Soldaterlegatet
- MA in Classical Archeology, University of Copenhagen.
- from Copenhagen, Denmark
- “Helping veterans back to a normal life”
Evaluation and awareness-raising
Above all, I am supporting my colleagues in their efforts. Often we face complex cases where consultations with our partners is crucial. Our partners provide soldiers with legal advice, financial counselling, social assistance and other such matters. We also assist in drug expenses to make sure that all veterans, irrespective of their financial situation, get their medicine.
Another important task is to communicate our experiences to the relevant stakeholders. We often turn directly to decision makers with proposals for solutions to specific issues.
The people I help
Many of the people we have supported until now have been employed in the Balkan missions. We also see a lot of young veterans from the latest missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. About nine out of ten of the soldiers we are in contact with have post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological traumas. Research shows that 15-20 % of the homecomers struggle with negative consequences such as mental illness, medication with psychotropic drugs, or alcohol abuse.
Most of the soldiers are not born into a life of heavy social problems so when they lose control of their lives because of psychological trauma they are struck down by an unknown enemy. The struggle is to help these people out of their social isolation, encourage them to receive professional treatment and support them on their way back to a normal life.
The bottom line
“Back from War – and then what?” was a pilot project where Soldaterlegatet asked The Danish Disabled Sports Information Center (DDSIC) to gather a group of traumatized veterans for a two-weeks’ stay in a folk high school and afterwards organize some follow up sessions in a home environment. The project had 17 participants.
The stay at the folk high school ensured that the veterans could make contact with each other and develop a relationship of trust to their mentors. The program was packed with educational activities, such as sports, creative arts and labour market skills.
In the follow up phase we found out that many of the participants had close contact to their mentor for several months – even years, thanks to the DDSIC’s patient work! The veterans were assisted in answering mails, paying bills, sorting out problems with the bank, making a budget, getting medical treatment, finding a place to live, re-acquiring their driving license and so on.
Two years after the project many of the veterans had regained a greater degree of control over their own lives. Five of them got treated for their alcohol abuse. Several participated regularly in sports – some in local football or golf clubs. One reported that he completely overcame his fear of using public transport. Two participants got with great enthusiasm involved in a museums project and finally more of the participants had an employment than before the project. As Per Larsen tells us, life is still no bed of roses but I hope that the project has been able to provide the participants with the courage to challenge their lives again. I am glad to hear about Per’s positive life situation status and wish him all the best for his future.
Civilian life felt pointless
I realized I had some issues that I couldn’t handle on my own.
I was very irritable, I couldn’t sleep, I was very suspicious of other people, everyday life felt pointless and I got into social isolation – I didn’t like to be around other people, including my family. I didn’t feel I belonged in the civilian life.
I am a war veteran: I had a two-year contract with the military from 1987-1989 and between 2000-2007 I was voluntarily deployed 5 times, half a year each time. I was three times in the former Yugoslavia, once in Iraq as a medic and once in Afghanistan as heavy machine gunner.
I had a lot of troubles, like the ones I described. Today I know that some of these things also were present between my deployments, but not as seriously as when I came home from Afghanistan and became a fulltime civilian
Some of these mental health issues are still present, but only as fragments of what it has been. The last two or three months have been very good, and I hope it’s a tendency that will proceed. And it’s also during the last 2-3 months I’ve learned to accept that I’m a soldier without uniform and unit.
Per Larsen, 46
- Assistant teacher, retired soldier
- Agriculture mechanic, degree in Macroeconomics, HD in Organization and Management.
- Faxe Ladeplads, Denmark
- “I’ve learned to accept that I’m a soldier without uniform”
Working, talking, running
I took part in the ‘Back from War-project’ in the spring of 2011. It was one of the guys at the Veterans’ home who had seen the project on the Internet.
The project had so many elements and activities – I can’t even remember all of it. Painting, playing music, discussions, a lecture about blast damage and one about a running project, kayak sailing, running, archery, cooking and nutrition, you name it. Beside of this there was counselling both during the two-week period at the folk high school and also later. But it was all voluntary and if you had a bad day, you just told that you didn’t want to participate
The project had a very positive effect on my life. I think the first main thing is that I got a job after having been unemployed one year. The second thing is that I realized I needed outside help and talked to a psychologist. I also started to exercise again. There were three of us who went to New York Marathon with Team Veteran that autumn. I still have my job, I’m still talking to the psychologist and I’m still running.
Soldaterlegatet -the Soldiers Grant
Soldaterlegatet is a private Foundation, independent of the Danish Defense, labor unions and political interests. The Foundation was established in 2009 and has seen widespread support from a number of Denmark’s largest foundations.
Since 2009 Soldaterlegatet has spent 6.6 million Euro on individual support to physically and psychological traumatized Danish war veterans as well as projects for the benefit of this target group.
More than 1000 veterans have received one or more grants.
The foundation board and the grants committee as well as the presidium, consisting of the foundations’ major donors, works for free while the daily work is carried out by a secretariat with four employees.