A war veteran who served for seven months in Afghanistan had 327 job applications rejected when he came back to the UK.
Dan Richards, 36, also suffered a serious motorcycle accident after returning from the tour.
He was travelling back to his army barracks in St John’s Wood, on April 22, 2009, the day after the Queen’s birthday celebrations, when the accident happened.
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More than 12 years later, the Balham resident still can’t recall how it occurred happened.
Dan, who was aged 23 at the time, was awoken by concerned doctors at The Royal London Hospital with his parents stood beside them.
(Image: Dan Richards)
He had been in an induced coma.
“I remember waking up in the hospital – my memory isn’t very vivid but I remember my mum and dad were there,
“Doctors were telling me I had been in a very bad motorcycle accident which I had no recollection of. I thought I was back in my barracks in St John’s Wood, but I was told I’d been in a bad motorcycle accident and was very lucky to be alive,” Dan told MyLondon.
Dan, a former King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery soldier, was told he had broken both ankles, and his left arm had been fitted with an external fixator to hold his broken bones together.
Doctors told Dan they were unable to save his right arm and shoulder after almost seven hours of surgery. Dan discovered his right arm had ripped away from his body at the time of the accident.
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The shock of losing his right arm and shoulder without any memory of doing so led Dan to become upset and suffer an identity crisis.
Dan was also dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the accident, and suffered from little sleep and phantom limb pain, a medical phenomena amputees experience after losing a limb.
It consist of a sharp pain in the limb that is no longer there. Although the limb has been amputated, nerve endings will send signals to the brain that trick the brain into thinking the limb is still there.
Dan described the feeling: ” It’s like the weight of a bus, or balancing four wheels of a bus on my little finger on the right arm I don’t have anymore – it would get heavier and heavier and heavier. I was given nerve blockers, but it was excruciatingly painful.”
Even now, Dan still endures a sharp pain lasting for 20 seconds long a couple of times a month.
(Image: Dan Richards)
Despite these setbacks, Dan relearned everyday tasks such as learning how to write with his less dominant arm and tying shoelaces with one arm.
Dan returned to the military for another three years but not as a farrier, which Dan wanted to do because it was a trade and was encouraged by the army.
Dan was eventually medically discharged from the military in 2012, and hit rock-bottom.
He recalls: “I wasn’t addressing that I was going through a massive identity crisis. I couldn’t be a farrier, I couldn’t do half of the stuff everyone else was doing.
“I was watching new people come into the regiment, and they were going to climb up the promotional ladder and overtake me – it was a very bitter pill to swallow.”
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Dan arrived at Tedworth House in Wiltshire, a recovery centre run by the military charity, Help for Heroes for sick, wounded and injured veterans.
Having been in the military since the age of 17, Dan decided to study literacy and numeracy courses while at Tedworth and with the support of Help for Heroes.
He assumed he would easily find employment in a new sector because of his military past.
“When you’re in the military, you’re employable by everyone because of the work ethic and what you stand for. I was relying on it and thought I was in a good position to get a job – I thought I must be quite employable as an individual,” Dan said.
But after applying for 327 jobs in the space of 10 months, Dan was rejected by all of them.
He received a few replies but his applications never progressed further because employers chose someone else over him.
(Image: Dan Richards)
Dan added: “I was living off my savings and had no disposable income. I was living at my mum and dad’s house in my old room. I didn’t know at the time I had become depressed and a recluse.
“I had no identity again, and I couldn’t get a job or find a job. I had lots of help but it never led to anything.”
Aged 27, Dan realised he needed help.
Dan and his family reached out to Help for Heroes, which he describes as a “beacon of light” for veterans returning to everyday life.
Help for Heroes encouraged Dan to take up new activities such as cycling, learning to fly and qualifying as an open water scuba diver.
The charity also helped Dan “boost up his CV” and eventually landed a job as a chauffeur for Capstar in 2013, a luxury service business set up by former British army officers who employ former servicemen and women from the Armed Forces.
Dan now embraces life to the fullest, and says yes to every opportunity that now comes his way.
He adds: “I’d take having one arm over having PTSI (post-traumatic stress injury). I would take my one arm over any mental injury, any cognitive injury, any day of the week – it still allows me to live a normal life.
“I’ve been able to come to terms with my disability, I’ve been able to come to terms because people can see it – people for the most past can acknowledge what they see, which makes me very fortunate to be an amputee.”
This November, Help for Heroes has launched a fundraising campaign so all wounded veterans can receive specialist one-to-one support.
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