Keith Beaumont, 44, served with 11 Squadron at RAF Leeming working on fast jets, and worked in the Gulf to protect no-fly zones. He was down to his last bag of rice when he reached out to the British Legion for help.
Sales of poppies around Remembrance Day go directly towards helping the Armed Forces community.
I was down to my last bag of rice and packet of plain biscuits when I got in touch with the Royal British Legion. I was in so much debt it almost started to feel like it would be better if I wasn't here.
I always thought I would go into the Armed Forces - my grandad served in the Navy and the Army and got a medal from King George. So when I was 16, I signed up to the Army. I quickly realised it wasn't for me, so I went and spoke to recruiters and talked about my future options, the RAF sounded right up my street.
I worked as an armourer for planes - making sure they were fully armed and ready for action - and spent time in the Gulf before 9/11 on a campaign called Operation Southern Watch. I left the services shortly after, working with my dad as a plumber and then for other companies.
But life took a turn for the worse a few years ago. I was working and hurt my shoulder in two places, life felt like it was spiralling, and I had issues with alcohol and was done for drink driving. I was told I needed an operation for my shoulder, and was then laid off from my job, and was advised to go on Universal Credit.
I couldn't work because of the shoulder injury, but when I spoke to the Universal Credit health professional they sent me a letter saying I was fit to work. When I tried to challenge it, they told me I wouldn't get anywhere and stuck to their original decision.
I was that skint I'd sold all of my work gear
I was that skint I'd sold all of my work gear and started selling the rest of my things as well because I couldn't afford to eat. I was getting into debt and the Universal Credit people started taking money to cover the debts out of the money I was getting - so every month I had a shortfall.
Lockdown had just started, and things were bleak. I was using food banks to eat, I didn't have tools to work and I was still recovering from my shoulder operation. I spoke to debt management people from Universal Credit and they suggested I get in touch with the British Legion.
I've always been brought up where if you see someone selling poppies you buy one - but I never really thought about what the money was used for. It's more that I know that people in the past have died, and people have lost loved ones or been injured. I was lucky in the forces that I didn't experience any injury or anything like that - and there are other soldiers who have had terrible injuries, so I know I'm lucky. It just didn't occur to me that I could get help from the Legion. I'm just glad I phoned them that day.
I was carrying a bit of bad debt, about £20,000. I didn't think it was that bad but when I rang the Legion up they sent me a £20 voucher for Sainsbury's - the relief of being able to go to the supermarket and get something nice, cook some real food, was incredible.
Someone came out to see me, check my discharge certificate and get some details about my life, and I told them about the drawer of bills that I was too scared to open. They sent me another £250 of Sainsbury's vouchers. I just felt really humble... I felt a bit emotional at that point. They also put me in touch with a financial genius, she basically came over and she took all my bills and worked it all out and advised me that I needed to go bankrupt because of how in debt I was.
I probably thought I would be better off if I weren't here. When life's going shit, you're going to feel like that.
People contemplate suicide and all sorts, with debt. I probably thought I would be better off if I weren't here. When you've no money and life's going shit, you're going to feel like that. And being in lockdown just made it all worse.
The Royal British Legion applied for my bankruptcy and paid it via the RAF Benevolent Fund, so they helped me get a second chance. After all that happened I got another phone call from someone from the RBL about my benefits - I told her I wanted to go to a tribunal over the decision saying I was fit to work.
In the midst of this, I was taking 16 codeine tablets a day for my shoulder, I was in that much pain. I had another healthcare assessment at the job centre, and someone from the legion came with me - she told the interviewer "No matter what the outcome of the interview today, we are going to support him wholly and fully".
That felt amazing, especially after going through the process previously where it felt like I wasn't being believed. The registered nurse confirmed that I wasn't fit to work - she nearly fell off her chair when I told her how much pain medication I needed to take - and I was entitled to more benefits.
The RBL was there with me during the tribunal, and three months later I got a letter saying the secretary of state was changing the decision on my original assessment - and awarding me backpay of £8,500, it was amazing. I don't know how many people can say they've ever received that kind of letter.
I spent a load of money on tools - I am going to buy myself some nice tools that are going to last me years and try to get back working again. You get a second chance in life, don't you?
All I'd say to somebody in the same position is if you're feeling really down and don't think there's a way out of anymore options left, there is - the RBL will actually listen to you. And they'll help you put your life back together.
For confidential emotional support contact The Samaritans at any time by calling 116 123 or emailing email@example.com.
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