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Living with PTSD: Former military medic reveals how the battle goes on for veterans

A female military medic has told ITV News how her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder has left her terrified to leave the house alone.

Paul Davies reports.

At the end of this week, every senior member of the royal family will attend a ceremony to thank Britain's armed forces for their efforts in Afghanistan.

Services at St Paul's Cathedral and around the country will recognise the sacrifice of those who lost their lives, or suffered life changing injuries.

For a country that became accustomed to seeing its young men and women returning home in coffins, it will be tempting to think a line has been drawn under this costly conflict.

That, according to veterans and military charities, would be a huge mistake. Thousands of our servicemen and women will be paying a terrible price for the forseeable future.

Some of the deepest wounds are not visible.

ITV News spent the day with Flight Lieutenant Michelle Sanderson who has been forced to leave the RAF suffering from the stress condition PTSD. Her story is brutally honest.

She was the first female RAF paramedic to work on the Afghan frontline Credit: Michelle Sanderson

The first female RAF paramedic to work on the Afghan frontline, she now finds it impossible to step outside the front door of her Wigan home most days. She wets the bed and has recurring nightmares, in which she regularly finds herself back in Afghanistan surrounded by the horrors she has witnessed.

Flt Lt Sanderson completed three tours of Afghanistan. During that time, she was routinely flown by helicopter into the heart of the fighting to care for military and civilian casualties.

It was after the third tour that the impact on her mental health became clear - and in September last year, she was given a medical discharge.

It is impossible for people to understand how this has changed my life. I was confident,I had a fiance and lots friends. Now, it's a battle to get out of bed in the morning.

– Michelle Sanderson
Flt Lt Sanderson completed three tours of Afghanistan Credit: Michelle Sanderson

It is not only in her dreams that Michelle sees bloody images from her past.

I will be shopping or something ordinary like that when without warning the faces of children in the shops turn into the faces of victims I have treated.

Ordinary noises suddenly become the sound of the battlefield. I start to panic and just can't cope.

– Michelle Sanderson

Michelle wears oversize headphones when she visits the supermarket to shut out the noise, but it doesn't always work. She has considered suicide on more than one occasion, and now keeps a blog about her experience.

Since her discharge she says she has had to find her own help. All the RAF have offered, she claims , is counselling at Catterick. That would be a five hour round trip from her home, something she is not able to face.

While she lived up to the RAF's ethos and core values, she says, she does not believe the RAF has held up its end of the bargain.

Michelle's mother Carole Johnston goes further, saying her daughter has been let down by the military who are not living up to the Covenant that promises to support the men and women who serve.

Michelle said she finds even simple tasks like going to the supermarket difficult Credit: ITV News

The MoD said it would not comment on individual cases, but said they take the issue very seriously and improvements continue to be made in caring for the mental health of the armed forces.

While we cannot comment on individual cases, the government takes the mental health and wellbeing of our Armed Forces very seriously and has long recognised that service life can cause stress.

Mental health support to the Armed Forces has improved in a number of ways, including providing pre- and post-operational stress management training, a wide range of psychiatric and psychological treatments and initiatives such as Trauma Risk Incident Management.

In addition, the MoD has introduced several anti-stigma campaigns to encourage Serving Personnel who need help to come forward to access the wide range of support that is available.

– Ministry of Defence spokeswoman
An extract from the letter

ITV News, however, has seen a letter from one of Michelle Sanderson's senior officers in the RAF.

In it, it is acknowledged that there are still problems in dealing with unseen mental injuries, and that vulnerable ex servicemen and women are still slipping through the net.

What is PTSD?

Need support?

MoD veteran's helpline (24hr): 0800 1381619, or visit the website.

SSAFA's helpline: 0800 7314880, or visit the website.

Combat Stress helpline (24hr): 0800 138 1619, or visit the website.