A British Army soldier stands near his national flag, November 18, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
More than 100 disabled veterans from Israel and the United Kingdom will join forces next week in Israel not for battle but in a groundbreaking celebration of family and sports.
The Veteran Games, being held May 26-30 in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at rehabilitation centers run by Beit Halochem, will see participants compete, try new sports, and learn about how their respective countries provide specialist care for those wounded in combat.
The games will include a three-day conference about PTSD among veterans chaired by Sir Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and a consultant adviser in psychiatry to the British Army, and by Prof. Zahava Solomon of Tel Aviv University.
“It is vitally important to look not just within our own country and its armed services, but also to look beyond,” Wessely said of the event. “Some important issues will be missed if we are solely inward-looking. It’s in that spirit of collaboration that we have brought together a diverse group of medical experts and commentators to discuss some of these issues here in Tel Aviv.”
He said that “connecting colleagues, friends and strangers can often have the most unexpected but perhaps the most interesting and rewarding outcomes.”
The event, the brainchild of Beit Halochem UK and the Israeli Embassy in London, will have participating veterans and their families fly to Israel on an El Al flight.
The Veteran Games, the first such event of its kind, is supported by leading rehabilitation and forces organizations including the Royal Marines Charity, RAF Benevolent Fund, Rock to Recovery, Veteran Scotland, Combat Stress, the Not Forgotten Association and the Association of Jewish ex-Service Men and Women (AJEX), The Wolfson Family Charitable Trust, and The Exilarch’s Foundation.
The games are funded by donations from the Patron Charitable Initiatives, the Pears Foundation, Rachel Charitable Trust, the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation and the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust.
“Shared experiences for military veterans are a strong source of physical and mental healing, even more so across differing nationalities who are battling identical challenges,” said Jonathan Ball, chief executive of the Royal Marines Charity.
“However, the experiences and battles of their dependents are often forgotten. So we are delighted that the families of our Royal Marines will meet and share with others from Britain and Israel at these games, and will find that shared common burdens become lighter,” he added.
A number of the British competitors have won medals at the Prince Harry-founded Invictus Games. Participating will be former regimental sergeant-major of HM Royal Marines Matt Tomlinson, one of Britain’s most decorated commandos in recent times, who received numerous awards for bravery including the Military Cross.
“The transition to civvy street is hard enough but what you see on deployment can leave you with many intrusive thoughts that never go away. The many deaths of friends can take its toll on anyone’s mental health,” he said.
The Chelsea Foundation is also backing the event by providing football coaching for families attending and specialist workshops for Israeli sports teachers.
“It is a great privilege for us to support this initiative,” said Bruce Buck, Chelsea FC chairman. “At Chelsea FC, we have supported veterans in our local communities for many years, and have seen the healing power sports can have to overcome challenges and unite people. Our coaches will be meeting and working with veterans and their families throughout the week-long event, I trust that we will learn a lot from their ways of overcoming the many challenges they are facing every day.”
Spencer Gelding, chief executive of Beit Halochem UK, said that his organization is “extremely proud to be a founding partner of the inaugural Veteran Games and conference. The contribution of the armed services is immeasurable, and it is our ambition to help pave the way for best practice with regards to physical and mental rehabilitation of wounded veterans.
“We greatly look forward to welcoming the UK veterans, representatives of many of the leading UK veteran organizations and academics involved in the conference. We hope this pioneering initiative will be the start of a long-term relationship. It will also be an opportunity to show the unique facilities that Beit Halochem offers to its 51,000 members and a chance to explore Israel’s rich culture and vibrant society.”