Ray Hazan: We need to see our way to supporting ex-Servicemen

Related Topics

Sight loss can be devastating. When someone loses their sight they face a long, challenging journey of rehabilitation. Emotionally, they may feel isolated and frustrated by their situation. In practical terms, they will need to re-learn many of the everyday tasks they once took for granted. Today, on World Sight Day, I'd like to urge people to think about how we can best support ex-Service men and women who lose their sight, whether in combat or later life.

I know first hand about the challenging path to rehabilitation, because my story starts in 1973, when an IRA parcel bomb exploded while I was holding it. I was serving with the Royal Anglian Regiment in Northern Ireland when the blast took my sight, most of my hearing and my right hand, also killing my fellow Officer.

At St Dunstan's we provide lifelong support to blind ex-Service men and women, helping them to regain their confidence and independence after the onset of visual impairment. Every day, they prove that blindness is no obstacle to an independent, fulfilling life. But rehabilitation after a traumatic experience in Service, or in later life can be a lengthy and difficult process, and the need for a holistic approach that combines the emotional, practical and financial is crucial. Our goal at St Dunstan's is to fund and provide specialist practical assistance and emotional support tailored to each individual’s unique needs and abilities.

We recently carried out some research with our St Dunstaners (our beneficiaries) to better understand what type of support can be most beneficial in helping them to rediscover an independent life. We asked our beneficiaries which element of the assistance we provide – emotional, practical and financial – was most important to them. Half of the blind ex-Service personnel (49 per cent) ranked practical support as most important, followed closely by emotional support, with 36 per cent stating that this type of assistance was most important. Only 15 per cent of the St Dunstaners stated that they thought financial help was the most essential element of the charity's support.

This led me to reflect on my own experiences and the support which has enabled me to achieve what I have today. My thoughts are that the recent debate surrounding the financial support of UK veterans, while important, should also call for a focus on a holistic approach to care within the ex-Service Community – one which embraces the financial, emotional and practical.

After the blast, my world came to a grinding halt; the sense of loss was like a bereavement. The thought that I would never read, kick a football, or see my children (my wife was 4 months pregnant when it happened) was an extreme blow and I felt almost paralysed with shock.

My first realisation that I hadn’t lost everything came around three weeks after the explosion. I was visited by a member of the St Dunstan’s team, who gave me a tactile watch and taught me to tell the time through touch. It was this practical support which for the first time made me realise I could regain independence – it was something to live for. From then on, St Dunstan's introduced me to other tools and techniques to help me to cope with my blindness. I attended an induction week at the St Dunstan's centre in Ovingdean where specialist staff called ROVIs assessed my individual needs and devised a tailored intensive training programme. The practical techniques I learned have stayed with me ever since, enabling me to live independently, in a way I never believed would be possible. Through St Dunstan's, I quickly learned the skills and confidence I needed to enable me to fulfil my goal to return to work and support my familiy. I was taught to touch type and also learned independent living skills such as working in a kitchen and how to navigate safely.

Alongside the practical help I received, the emotional support provided through regular welfare visits and the support network available to me and my family, was what really gave me the boost I needed and the will to carry on. I still remember my first day at St Dunstan's, around six weeks after the blast. I heard the chatter and laughter of other St Dunstaners and thought "perhaps blindness isn't that bad". The positive attitude of those I met was catching. Being part of St Dunstan's was like being part of one big family. It made me realise that I wasn't the only one in the world facing the same issue. My perspective completely changed – from there on I made the decision to treat my rehabilitation like an adventure. Each day I learned one new thing – a skill or technique to get through the day.

My son was born a few months later and I had no opportunity to get down or introspective. I had to be a father to my son and this was another challenge to keep me going. The thought of getting back to work was hugely motivating for me. I wanted to be able to provide for my family. The inspiration that St Dunstan's gave me has never left, and it is now with an enormous amount of pride and pleasure that I can say that I am President of the organisation. It was the unique combination of emotional, financial and practical support that has enabled me to lead a fulfilling and independent life, and I know that the organization continues to do the same for our St Dunstaners.

Today is World Sight Day, and to mark the day, I would encourage people to think about the men and women who have served their country, and who have since lost their sight either in combat or in later years. All of these men and women have faced enormous challenges in their rehabilitation to independence. I would like to encourage you all to support the work that we do at St Dunstan's, to help us give more visually impaired ex-Service men and women a second chance at life.

Ray Hazan is President of St Dunstan’s. He was blinded and seriously wounded in 1973 by an IRA parcel bomb.

You can help St Dunstan’s to help more blind ex-Service men and women by logging on to www.st-dunstans.org.uk or calling 0300 111 2233.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - OTE £50,000

£18000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is recruiting for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager / Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B software supplier, spe...

Recruitment Genius: Systems Application Analyst - Data, SQL

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing SaaS (Softwar...

Recruitment Genius: Events Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has arisen for an ex...

Day In a Page

Read Next

'You’re just jealous', and other common misconceptions about the Protein World advert

Hannah Atkinson
Dave Brown's cartoon for the 28 April edition of The Independent  

After five years of completely flaccid leadership, I'm glad something 'pumps up' David Cameron

Joe Sandler Clarke
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence