Telly tycoon Duncan Bannatyne today calls on the Government to do more to help all our struggling military heroes.
But he also put his money where his mouth is.
The ex-Dragons’ Den judge made the urgent plea as he offered hundreds of free gym memberships to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Duncan’s fantastic generosity comes as he throws his backing behind the Sunday People’s Save Our Soldiers campaign.
The TV business angel, who served six years in the Royal Navy after joining aged 16, says if it wasn’t for the support of charities “most veterans would fall between the cracks”.
The millionaire runs the largest independent chain of health clubs in the UK.
And he is now giving away five year-long memberships at each of his 72 health clubs to military veterans suffering from PTSD.
Duncan, 70, told the Sunday People: “I truly believe our armed forces are the best in the world. I think they do an amazing job and the bravery that comes with doing the job they do is outstanding.
“If I can help in a small way such as giving a free membership to help combat PTSD, then I am more than happy to do that.
“It is something that is very dear to me.”
Duncan’s dad William endured three-and-a-half years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Second World War and was starving to death before liberation in 1945.
William, an infantryman in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, had been captured while fighting Japan’s invasion of Malaya and Singapore in 1942.
Duncan said: “My father was somebody who did not really talk about his time as PoW. However over the years I did get bits out of him and when I hear what he endured it makes me so proud to have seen how brave he was.”
Duncan’s military background is one of the reasons he feels strongly about the plight of troops with PTSD.
New figures show 21,378 veterans were referred for mental health treatment on the NHS last year but only 16,644 started treatment.
Duncan said: “The Government should be more proactive.
“I am aware they have help and procedures in place to help veterans with PTSD.
“However, I have spoken with veterans who have not been able to get the help they need from the Government and have had to seek help elsewhere.
“Charities end up being the place where most veterans seek help. If it were not for the support of charities I think most veterans would fall between the cracks.” He also wants to see more support for families of veterans with PTSD, as they “live the nightmare as well”.
And Duncan says more needs to be done to help people with all mental health problems.
He said: “The first step is to get people talking more about their feelings.
“Other factors that can help are keeping active, trying to eat well, drinking in moderation and keeping in touch with people, groups and organisations that can help.
“Most important though, is that when somebody is struggling they get the support they need.”
Talking about his own military career, Duncan added: “I travelled the world and loved it.
“I think being part of the armed forces gives you a sense of belonging, stability and pride in serving your country in the best possible way.”
A Government spokesman said: “Veterans can access specialist medical assistance from the NHS and find a wide range of other support services through our Veterans’ Gateway.”
How vets with PTSD can apply
Duncan Bannatyne, pictured at one of his health clubs, is giving away hundreds of memberships to military veterans recovering from PTSD.
Five memberships, lasting a year, will be given at each of Duncan’s 72 clubs nationwide.
The memberships will be issued on a first-come-first-served basis. Those who apply may be asked to show proof of their military history and details of their diagnosis. The gyms retain the right to make a final decision on who receives memberships.
To apply please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charities can also make contact on behalf of veterans they support.
This could very well save lives
By Sean Rayment
Veterans’ charities say Duncan Bannatyne’s amazing generosity could save the lives of our neglected heroes.
Former Royal Marine Jeff Williams, of Veterans United Against Suicide, applauded the generous gesture.
He said: “I would love the opportunity to shake Duncan’s hand in a display of respect from the veterans’ community.
“This is exactly the type of initiative the veterans’ community needs.
“If there is a better way of banishing PTSD I don’t know what it is.
“Sport and physical fitness are vital for good mental health. “For veterans suffering from PTSD this could be a real life-saver and that is no exaggeration.”
Ex-soldier and PTSD sufferer Dan Arnold, who founded the All Calls Signs group, added: “I think this is a brilliant initiative and hats off to Duncan and the Bannatyne Group.
“We all know how important physical exercise can be for veterans with mental health issues.
“I have personally found running has been my saviour at times. This will go a long way to help some veterans who are struggling to get out, do some exercise and give their mental health a boost and all for free.”
And ex-Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult, who won the Military Cross for fighting off insurgents in Baghdad in 2005 and now campaigns for veterans’ rights, said: “This is simply awesome.
“Well done Duncan Bannatyne. This is going to lift the spirits of hundreds of veterans around the UK.
“Physical fitness is key to good mental health and this offer will help transform lives.”
Boost your vim in the gym
Vigorous exercise stimulates the brain’s release of endorphins – the chemicals that give feelings of well-being and are generally low in PTSD sufferers.
Exercise can also suppress and reduce other chemicals in the body that heighten feelings of anxiety and depression.
Strenuous activity also tires the body so that sleep comes more easily. Duncan Bannatyne said: “I have always exercised since opening my first health club in 1997.
“When I was in the full throes of expanding my empire my stress levels were off the scale and exercise was a way of dealing with everything that life throws at you.
“I would always recommend exercise as a way of dealing with the stresses and strains of life.”