Veteran Games in Israel gave me my life back, says former British soldier

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Veteran Games in Israel gave me my life back, says former British soldier

Israeli ambassador hails event bringing together injured Israeli and British service personnel at official launch of 2023 event.

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

British and Israeli participants at the inaugural Veterans Games.
British and Israeli participants at the inaugural Veterans Games.

A former Royal Marine has spoken of the life-changing impact of an initiative bringing together injured Israeli and British ex-serviceman as the state’s ambassador hailed the Veteran Games as one of her favourite projects.

Tzipi Hotovely heaped praise on the annual project organised by Beit Halochem UK as she launched the 2023 Games at her residence. Votes in Parliament prevented newly-installed Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer from joining the event on Tuesday night.

Among those to travel to Israel for the friendly sporting competition last May was father-of-four Joe Winch. The one-time Royal Marine was medically discharged from the military with complex PTSD in 2018.

He described how a lack of financial support following the diagnosis meant he was on the verge of losing his home. But at the mental health conference on the sidelines of the Veteran Games he met a senior British official who “remained at our side until we got the right solution for me” and ended up helping to “give me back my life”. After highlighting shortcomings in the system, his pension was adjusted and he no longer had to sell the family home.

Inspiring scenes from the Veteran Games in Israel. Photos: Justin Cohen.

He told the gathering that included sponsors and supporters of the project: “Words can’t express the relief we are feeling. None of this would have happened without the Veteran Games. No other veteran events puts the veterans alongside policy makers and enables policy changes in the blink of an eye.”

He described the Games – conceived by Beit Halochem UK’s chair Andrew Wolfson and CEO Spencer Gelding and first run in 2019 – as “truly a once in a lifetime journey” which had also enabled the family to take a holiday together for the first time in years. Having enjoyed tours of the country with fellow vets during their time in Israel, he said his kids can’t wait to return.

Beit Halochem is partnering with 11 UK veteran charities on the 2023 Games, with each putting forward former service men and women who’ve experienced mental or physical trauma who they feel would most benefit from participation. Glynis Gillam, of Blind Veterans, said of the 2022 event: “We were treated like kings and queens for the whole time we were there. The Games recognise the role that families play and also the role that sporting activities can play in recovery.”

The initiative is supported by Pears Foundation, The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, The Maurice Wohl Charitable Trust, Patron Charitable Initiatives, Rachel Charitable Trust, The Exilarch’s Foundation, The Wolfson Family Charitable Trust and The Gerald and Gail Ronson Family Foundation.

While her role prevents her from offering any political opinions, said Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, she couldn’t remain neutral on the Games. “No matter how many dinners I host this will always remain the most special event. Nothing we can do on tech can make this human difference.”

Israel’s former president Reuven Rivlin with a member of the British Veteran Games team.

She hailed the Games as “the best of British and the best of Israel coming together” and the state-of-the-art facilities of the charity in Israel for helping her first political assistant after he was shot while serving in the IDF.

The launch was addressed by Veteran Games CEO Andy Garland. He said the Games were a wonderful example of bilateral collaboration – joking it was a concept he practises on a daily basis being married to an Israeli.

He stressed the determination not to bask in the glow of a one week trip to Israel. Rather, he said, the Games had led to a programme where veterans share their experiences in schools and the creation of social media groups involving alumni from different parts of the country to offer support and combat isolation.


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