Widow demands to be heard after war veteran husband's tragic descent to suicide

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

"I tried to get him help, I was trying to save his life and people didn’t work with me."

For years Jo Jukes lived with a war veteran husband suffering from worsening post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute depression - while desperately seeking help for him.

Now she is a widow after Lance Corporal Dave Jukes took his own life in October behind the family's home in Birmingham.

He had been sleeping rough in an alleyway after his volatile behaviour meant his wife had to make the agonising decision of taking out a court order banning him from entering their home.

Dave Jukes was sleeping rough as his behaviour was too volatile to be around his family. Credit: Family handout

It was a shocking end to the life of a former infantryman, 49, who had served in almost every major campaign British forces have been involved in over the last 25 years.

"He survived Northern Ireland, Bosnia, two Iraqs, Afghanistan, but his service killed him in the end," Mrs Jukes told ITV News.

She had witnessed him spiral away from the "funny, very committed" man who had proposed to her by hiding a ring in the paws of a teddy bear.

"All he wanted was to be part of a family," she remembered of the man she married.

All Dave Jukes wanted was to be part of a family, his wife said. Credit: Family handout

Mr Jukes had already had mental health problems by the time the couple met in 2008.

The strain briefly put an end to the relationship as he suffered a breakdown and was sectioned before being formally diagnosed with PTSD.

That was followed by therapy that Mrs Jukes said took him "back to a normal kind of person, a lot more relaxed".

But his return to active duty as a married man quickly "brought everything back".

It was in Afghanistan in late 2011 that the Army careerist called home and, for the first time, told his wife: "I can't do this."

Jo Jukes said the couple's pleas for help were 'not listened to'. Credit: ITV News

The impact of leaving the Army and the mental scars he had collected from a life of service quickly took a toll greater than the antidepressants prescribed by a GP could combat, Mrs Jukes said.

"In his mind he was still the same bloke, but to the outside world he wasn't," she added.

"That's when it first started, and it gradually over the years got worse and worse."

He would have flashbacks and nightmares.

He would sweat through the night, or get up and say: "I can't handle this."

Survivor's guilt from "something that happened" in Iraq would see him frequently ask his wife: "Why am I alive and they're not?"

Dave Jukes suffered from survivors' guilt. Credit: Family handout

Mr Dukes had gone public with his struggles, describing the dreadful impact of PTSD in a video to raise awareness in 2016.

"Having bad thoughts every day, suicidal thoughts, is not a nice thing to live with," he said as he performed press-ups in front of the camera.

Living with those thoughts made him increasingly dangerous for those who lived with him.

Towards the end of his life, now jobless and in the grips of PTSD, his loved ones had to leave the property after he barricaded himself into the family's attic and refused all offers of help.

"It ended up where he smashed up the house, which wasn't Dave.

"Dave wouldn't do that," Mrs Jukes said.

Dave Jukes' deteriorating mental health led to his smashing up the family's home. Credit: ITV News

She added that the family had been repeatedly let down.

She continued trying to get help for him, from the GP, the local health authority, the Ministry of Defence and veterans' charities.

She says the couple would "just get passed from pillar to post" and that some officials even doubted the authenticity of her husband's descriptions of his problems.

"I think that because he had complex PTSD I think they didn’t understand his symptoms or what he was talking about, and because of that they didn’t believe what he was saying," she said.

"In his mind nobody understood him and what he was going through."

She said officials had not built up a relationship with him.

"There was nobody that had his trust. They kept making him retell his story."

Dave Jukes already had mental health issues when the pair met in 2008. Credit: Family handout

Towards the end of his life, Mrs Jukes had warned about the stark danger he posed to his family and himself.

"Three weeks before he died I said to my GP: 'He’s going to kill me or he’s going to kill himself, and then you’ll all say ‘Oh dear, we should have done something’ but it will be too late.' And it is too late."

The violent episodes at home saw Mrs Jukes advised to obtain a court order to prevent her husband entering their home.

"Because one of my daughters has autism and mental health issues herself, social services were alerted for safeguarding reasons," she said.

"And we ended up where unfortunately I had to ask him to leave the house because I had to put my daughter first."

Dave Jukes described the impact of PTSD in a video in 2016. Credit: Family handout

On October 9, after returning from court with an official to serve him papers, Mr Jukes was found dead in the alleyway behind the family home.

"I blame myself, because I was the one person he had and he would have thought I gave up on him. But I didn't give up on him," Mrs Jukes said.

Newspaper investigations suggest that 52 veterans have died by suicide in 2018.

A day after his death the Government's first minister for suicide prevention was coincidentally appointed in England to tackle a problem which sees 4,500 people take their lives every year.

An emailed letter has already been sent on Mrs Jukes' behalf to the minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, as the family prepare for the funeral on November 5.

"I’m telling her that veterans need a single point of access. They need joined-up thinking," Mrs Jukes said.

She wants the health service to give greater involvement to families and learn from PTSD charities.

Dave Jukes served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Credit: Family handout

A spokesperson for the Government said: “Suicide has a tragic effect on families and communities and we are determined to reduce suicide rates further – that’s why we recently announced our first ever dedicated suicide prevention minister.

“We are proud of our Armed Forces and for those who have been injured either physically or mentally, it is our duty to ensure they continue to receive the best possible care as veterans.

"Last year, the MOD launched the Veterans’ Gateway – a 24-hour helpline that acts as a single point of contact for former service personnel and their families to access advice on health care to finances and housing.

“Since 2010 we have provided an additional £22.5m to the NHS in England to meet the mental and physical health needs of the armed forces and veterans, with a further £9m since 2017 to set up new Transition, Intervention and Liaison Mental Health Services providing community based support for those personnel approaching discharge.”

Above all, Mrs Jukes wants to be heard - in order to keep others alive.

"I want us to be able to stop anybody else ever having to live what we've had to live," she said.

"My life has changed forever because people wouldn’t step in and they wouldn’t listen."

Dave Jukes was found dead behind the family's home on October 9. Credit: Family handout
  • What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.

PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event or it can occur weeks, months or even years later.

PTSD is estimated to affect about one in every three people who have a traumatic experience, but it's not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others don't.

What to do if you or someone you know needs help:

  • If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.

  • Veterans' mental health charity Combat Stress is available 24 hours a day on 0800 138 1619 for veterans and their families, 0800 323 444 for serving personnel and their families, via text on 07537 404719, or through their website.

  • Veterans' charity SSAFA is available on 0800 731 4880 or through their website.

  • The Government's Veterans' Gateway offers advice and help for veterans seeking support and can be contacted on 0800 802 1212 or through the website.

  • Mind offers a helpline on 0300 123 3393 from 9am to 6pm.