At the age of 21 Bob Pittam was a proud member of the Parachute Regiment who was looking forward to a long career with the Army. But everything changed when he was taking part in a huge airdrop exercise on Salisbury Plain and his parachute failed to open properly.
When the young soldier hit the ground, the impact was so severe that he was left with breathing difficulties and two weeks later he was medically discharged, his career suddenly ruined. “It’s just the way it goes,” he says with a shrug.
Now 62, Mr Pittam still loves working outdoors and says he would re-join the Army in a heartbeat given the chance. He signed up at the age of 15, serving with the Paras in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s at the height of the Troubles.
While he was still a teenager, he had to deal with the aftermath of the Abercorn Restaurant bombing in Belfast, a paramilitary attack which killed two women and injured more than 130 others. “Someone had planted a bomb in the restaurant and it made a hell of a mess,” he recalled. “There were legs everywhere. I was only 17 and a half, trying to sort that out. There seemed to be bombings and ambushes all day, every day back then.”
Although he was devastated by the sudden end to his Army career, Mr Pittam did not let life get on top of him. Since leaving the Services he has worked a variety of physically demanding jobs, first as a slaughterman and later as a wildlife manager on country estates, where he specialised in mole and rabbit trapping.
But in 2011, he was left unable to work after a botched knee replacement. He said that in the space of a few hours on the operating table, he had gone from being a “fit man going out hunting and fishing all the time” to being “housebound”. His financial burdens mounted and eventually he had to declare himself bankrupt.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
He decided to ask military charities for help, a process he found “extremely embarrassing”. He added: “It was something I really never wanted to do. I’ve always had good work, good money and nice places to live, but it isn’t like that any more. I’ve never needed help, I’ve always been able to bumble through. But the last few years have been extremely difficult.”
In 2013 he contacted Veterans Aid, one of two charities being supported by The Independent’s appeal. One of its caseworkers, Jon Fullan, immediately visited him in Gloucestershire where he lives with his wife. The pair hit it off immediately, partly because Mr Fullan had also served in Northern Ireland.
Since then the charity has spent more than £5,000 helping Mr Pittam travel to London for specialist medical treatment on his knee. It also supported him when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, a discovery that was only made while doctors investigated his knee problems. Fortunately, it is now in remission.
Mr Pittam said he had been “blown away” by what the charity has done for him. “Veterans Aid gave me help immediately, not after weeks of form filling,” he said. “They literally paid for everything. They even came to see me in the hospital in Cheltenham when I was having cancer treatment, and the chemo nearly killed me. The help that I’ve been given has been mind-boggling.”Reuse content