‘Our Defence Forces veterans are really suffering’

By Adrian Cusack / Westmeath Examiner Published: Fri 30 Jun 2023

An ex-Army member who served in Athlone is now working to support vulnerable veterans in the Midlands and elsewhere who are struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental health, and other personal difficulties.

Steven Shields became the first national Veteran Support Officer for the Defence Forces charity ONE (Óglaigh Náisiúnta na hÉireann) two and a half years ago.

When he spoke to the Westmeath Independent recently, he explained that he was currently working to support 41 veterans living in Athlone, other parts of Westmeath, Offaly, and elsewhere.

“In the Army, you are given a mission and you always achieve it,” he said. “But what happens when life throws you a curveball, and for once you can’t achieve what it is that you’re expected to do? That’s really where our veterans are suffering.”

Having started his own recruit training in 1987, Steven went on to spent 27 years in the Defence Forces. During that time he served in his native Longford, Mullingar, and then, for the final four or five years of his Army career, in Custume Barracks.

“I ended up as what’s called a barracks personnel support service officer in Athlone, which involved offering social support to over 900 troops in Custume Barracks.

“That really gave me the skills I needed to do my current role, actually. It’s a very similar role to what I did in the Defence Forces, but obviously it’s in a civilian (capacity) now.”

Since leaving the Defence Forces nine years ago, he has worked as a counsellor in the Castlerea and Loughan House prisons, ran a rehabilitation programme for drug addiction in Cavan town, and was involved with the Midlands Simon Community.

Now in his third year as veteran support officer for ONE, he said: “Most of my current work is around the Midlands, because in a 60-mile radius there were the Athlone, Longford, Mullingar and Cavan barracks. With all the people who have passed through those barracks, of course there are going to be issues.”

Read the full article here: https://www.westmeathexaminer.ie/2023/06/30/our-defence-forces-veterans-are-really-suffering/

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