Failing to provide free gym membership for Wigan's army veterans could ‘exacerbate PTSD and mental health issues’

Refusing a motion to make gym membership free for army veterans in Wigan could exacerbate PTSD and mental health issues, a councillor has stated.
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Coun James Paul Watson, who suffered a spinal injury in Afghanistan in 2010 and has nerve damage in both legs, issued a letter to council cabinet members urging them to support his motion.

The Atherton councillor submitted the motion at full council in December 2021 after claiming the current policy of free gym memberships for serving military and ex-servicemen for 12 months after they leave the forces is not good enough.

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But the recommendation by officers for cabinet members to consider in Wigan Town Hall today is to continue the current arrangements..

“I have a long-standing MSK injury from Afghanistan and I have paid on average £30 per month over the past seven years to maintain my spinal injury,” the Independent Network councillor said.

“That is over £2,500. Not only is there no local rehabilitation centre for veterans, but I must pay to manage an injury I sustained on active duty.

“This definitely puts injured veterans at a disadvantage. This is at a time when the NHS is on its knees and veterans such as myself have to wait six months for physio appointments.

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“Furthermore, what about those who cannot afford the fees? By not conducting frequent rehabilitation for service-related injuries – they often worsen over time, adding to the pressures of the NHS.

“There is a link between physical injuries and poor mental health, and I fear that by denying our veterans free access to rehabilitation that we may be in fact exacerbating PTSD and other mental health issues that veterans face, further burdening the NHS unnecessarily.”

Coun Watson has set up a union for army vets to support those who come out of the forces and struggle to get a job or manage their post-service injuries.

He believes this “small act of gratitude to our veteran’s community” will currently cost the council a mere £5,982 per year or £115 per week – something he deems a small price to pay for their years of service.

The Ex-Forces Union, founded by Coun Watson, hopes to improve the way in which army veterans are treated – and this is the first step in his plans for Greater Manchester and the UK.