Jason Burns joined the Royal Marines straight out of school in 1986 and fought in war torn countries including Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kuwait.
On the morning of 16 September 2011, during his second tour of Afghanistan, Jason heard the mortar alarm ringing out: “I sprinted as fast as could to my tent. Suddenly, my feet went out from under me and I flew into the air. I landed on a chair that smashed into the base of my back.”
The accident caused disk tears, bulges and nerve damage along the lower section of his spinal cord: “I was heartbroken. I saw the surgeon and he told me he couldn’t operate and there was nothing they could do to improve my condition; in fact it was degenerative.”
That was the moment Jason first realised that his 26 year career as a Royal Marine Commando had come to an end. He also didn’t realise how much his physical injury was impacting the rest of his life. It was a shopping trip in 2011 that provided a painful wake-up call: “I was on all sorts of medication, wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping and was having panic attacks. I stood in front of a mirror and I was crying my eyes out. I looked emaciated and ill; I didn’t recognise the person I was looking at.”
The next two years were almost unbearable for Jason, his wife Andrea and their three children, who had relocated from Plymouth to the North East. He was already suffering from depression and anxiety, but he was then diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Things were desperate.
Jason knew he had to start working through his PTSD: “It was an accumulation of all the tours I’ve done. All the things I’ve seen. All the lives I’ve lost. And the sheer weight of the responsibility I feel.”
After two years struggling on their own, a chance connection on Twitter would prove life-changing for Jason and Andrea. It was Carers Week in 2013 and Help for Heroes put out a tweet saying: “This week is #carersweek and we’d like to recognise all those unsung heroes who care for their own hero.”
Andrea saw the tweet and replied saying: “Really needed to hear that, today’s been a really hard day. It can be draining some days. Life’s changed so much.”
By sending that simple tweet Andrea had opened a door that would change her and Jason’s lives for the better. Jason explains: “Within an hour the phone started ringing – it was Help for Heroes. I was then in the Band of Brothers and my wife in the Band of Sisters. We were finally getting help.”
The Help for Heroes Recovery Centre in Catterick has proved vital for Jason’s recovery. But, it’s not the building that has helped him. Rather, it’s the friendships he has formed inside its walls and the knowledge that his family can come with him and leave refreshed.
Another benefit Jason has discovered through Help for Heroes is support for his wife Andrea: “Andrea has fibromyalgia and our middle child, Ethan, has autism. Emotionally there’s a lot going on. I am so grateful that Help for Heroes is so good at looking after the family too.”
As for his second family – Help for Heroes – Jason is humbled by the support on offer and is thankful to all those who choose to put their hand in their pockets and a pound in a pot.