Derbyshire soldier's widow takes PTSD campaign to Westminster

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Jonny and Teresa Cole in happier times.

The widow of a soldier who took his own life after struggling with combat trauma said she feels "overwhelmed" after travelling to Westminster as part of a campaign to raise awareness of veterans' mental health.

Teresa Cole's husband, Jonny, suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning injured from a 2009 tour of Afghanistan in which several comrades died.

Over the next few years he began drinking heavily, developed money problems and tried to take his own life.

He was found dead in August 2018 in parkland near his home in Ironville, Derbyshire, five years after being medically discharged from the army. He was 39.

Five years on Teresa Cole met veterans' minister Johnny Mercer, an ex-serviceman, in Westminster.

She said he had agreed to join her in meeting organisations that support veterans.

Speaking outside the Cabinet office in Whitehall after the meeting Mr Mercer, Mrs Cole said: "I’m here today because my husband was a veteran and I’m trying to see more help available to veterans, especially ones who are suffering with their mental health.

"I’ve come out of it feeling very overwhelmed but also I’m happy with what Johnny [Mercer] has said to me [because] he listened to me.

"He’s said that in the circumstances he’s going to take a journey over to Northern Ireland. With myself he’s going to go round different organisations. We’re going to address the matter head-on and see what the veterans of Northern Ireland think and what changes they’d like to see made.

"I’m a happy lady."

Mr Cole joined the army at 19 and served in both Northern Ireland, where he met his future wife, and later in Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick 10.

He witnessed the aftermath of an explosion that left five soldiers dead, and was ordered to retrieve body parts to be returned home.

Less than three weeks later he suffered shrapnel injuries in a rocket-propelled grenade attack and was flown back to the UK for treatment in a military hospital.

The trauma of what he saw in Afghanistan changed him forever.

Mrs Cole said: "He came home and was completely different. He wasn’t the man I married at all. He always had a guilt over himself: that his friend was lying on top of him and he was killed and he always said that he should have died, not him."

Despite a deterioration in his mental health and several suicide attempts, Mr Cole was not formally diagnosed with PTSD.

The coroner at his inquest described the lack of a PTSD diagnosis as "highly regrettable".

Mrs Cole described the inquest process as "emotional, traumatic and exhausting" and that her husband should have received "the correct diagnosis and treatment".

Speaking in April this year following Jonny's inquest she added: "The army failed on every level and they neglected Jonny at every level. That’s why there needs to be changes.

"Veterans need more support. I would never let anyone I know, any family or my child, join the military because of what they’ve done to my husband.”