London has been abuzz with the advent of the Invictus Games this month, playing host to over 400 wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans from 13 nations. The Games are the brainchild of Prince Harry and were organised with the support and backing of The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Ministry of Defence, and charities such as Help for Heroes, . They were, famously, inspired by the United States’ Warrior Games, but have been elevated to an entirely new level according to those who have competed in both.
The Paralympic Spirit
While the Warrior Games are designed to introduce United States injured service members and veterans to the tremendously positive impact of paralympic sport, the Invictus Games go further, and have been likened to a ‘mini Olympics’, intended to test and challenge competitors and, in doing so, channel the spirit of competition, camaraderie and purpose intrinsic to military culture. The aim is aptly described on the Invictus Games’ website itself:
“Teams will come from the armed forces of nations that have served alongside each other. The Games will use the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation, and generate a wider understanding and respect of those who serve their country.
The event…will be a celebration of resilience and passion. The Games will shine a spotlight on Armed Forces personnel and veterans who have put their lives on the line for their country demonstrating how they and their families are valued, respected and supported. For competitors, it will offer a memorable, inspiring and energising experience in their journey of recovery.”
On Saturday 13 September 2014 I was one of many championing Team GB in the Wheelchair Basketball final at the Copper Box Arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I was immediately struck by the immense talent and determination of the competitors and their overwhelming sense of pride, achieved through overcoming adversity and representing their country yet again, and in such an exhilarating forum. That sense of pride was fully reciprocated by the crowd of supporters who joined in the celebration of those who have with quiet self sacrifice, given themselves for the benefit of the whole.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
I was also struck by how the Games have so successfully brought to the fore the crucial stories of those injured servicemen and women who have not necessarily been injured during the course of military conduct or suffered a physical injury. Some of the competitors had found, in sport, recovery from debilitating psychiatric injury such as PTSD and depression, and some described how their injuries had been sustained in civilian road traffic accidents, prompting an untimely exit from a full military career and the “military family” with whom they had forged such a unique bond.
The future of rehabilitation after military life
The Invictus Games have provided a few of these men and women with the opportunity to re-establish that sense of self which is so inextricably linked with military life and they will undoubtedly inspire many in their journey to recovery and re-assimilation into civilian life. It is important to bear in mind, however, that rehabilitation and recovery are not achieved through will alone. In order to achieve the best possible outcome our injured warriors require and deserve sufficient financial help to access effective treatment, aids and equipment.
These athletes have already been tested and challenged by service, injury, and the hard road to recovery. It is vital that we all, including the Ministry of Defence, non-governmental agencies, charities and lawyers, cooperate to make sure that they and their comrades are generously supported, without putting artificial hurdles in the way of the proper compensation they deserve.
The Invictus Games may have had its closing concert but, as Prince Harry has said, it marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. I am keen to see how, if at all, these Games will serve to smooth the way to prompt and appropriate financial support for veterans.