Poppy cash can help avoid debt despair

Money you give for Remembrance Day pays for crucial aid for former soldiers swamped by money worries

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The Independent Online

Adam Brown served with the Royal Green Jackets for 14 years. The rifleman had tours to Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo. But his biggest challenge faced him after he left the army in 2001.

"Leaving the army was an absolute struggle. I found it hard to socialise and talk to civilians, and I had no idea what I wanted to do," Adam, 41, says. In that first year, he went through 14 different jobs before deciding to use his passion for motorbikes to get a job in a bike shop.

That was the first step in building a new life outside the army, and next was starting a family with wife Sarah. But things fell apart when, with a toddler and a newborn baby, he was made redundant in 2007.

"We had been doing well up until then and had even bought our own home, but we suddenly had no money coming in and were really struggling," Adam admits. But then an old army mate told him to get in touch with the Royal British Legion.

"I thought I didn't deserve any help but I talked to one of the Legion's welfare officers who sorted out most of our pressing financial problems." In fact, the Legion's Benefits & Money Advice Service stepped in to help replace a broken washing machine, fridge-freezer and cooker as well as recarpeting Adam's Somerset home. It also provided vouchers to buy food and clothes for his new baby.

"It made a real difference while I looked for a new job," he says. He did find another job after a couple of months, but was made redundant again a year later. The double blow was almost too much.

"I was very close to giving up on everything," Adam admits. "I had no job, no prospects and we were struggling with our mortgage and council tax." In fact, once the pay ran out, the family put essentials on credit cards, which ended in a disastrous debt spiral with them soon owing £60,000.

The Legion's Advice Service came to the rescue once again, going over the family's finances with a fine-toothed comb. It assisted them in claiming the benefits they were entitled to and helped Adam to declare bankruptcy. "It may sound funny but we walked out of court with a smile, glad to be free of the debt. The only thing I really lost was my motorbike.

"We've decided never to have credit cards again but the key thing I learned was that you shouldn't be too proud to ask for help. In the army, it's drilled into you that personal pride is important and seeking help is not an option: you have to get on with the job yourself. Outside the army it's a different world."

Adam now has a job as a museum manager in Weston-super-Mare, which he says he enjoys. The family is thriving, with son Lewis now 5 and daughter Abigail 4. "The Legion made a crucial difference to us," Adam says. "We now feel financially secure and confident about the future."

Since launch in 2007, the Royal British Legion's Benefits & Money Advice Service – in conjunction with Citizens Advice – has put £112m into the pockets of Armed Forces families through getting increases in benefits, writing off debts and gaining grants.

More than 20,000 people leave the armed forces every year, and many find the transition to life outside the military difficult. The advice service can be a lifeline for them.

Its head, Alison Wyman, says: "One of the most common issues facing veterans and ex-service families is financial difficulty."

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