NEWTOWNABBEY councillor, alderman Billy Ball, has backed a call for a veterans’ support centre to be based in Northern Ireland.
The University Ward representative is asking for people to sign a petition by AA Veterans Support, which has called for a respite treatment and training centre to be set up.
Currently, those serving in the armed forces have to travel to England to centres which provide care and treatment to those with physical and mental injuries after tours in war zones. The facilities also provide retraining to help former service people gain skills to help them find employment in civilian life.
Ald Ball, who himself served in the UDR and the regular army, and is the council’s veterans’ advocate, has said a facility in Northern Ireland would help ease the trauma suffered by local people who served in conflicts across the world.
He said: “The facilities in England are fantastic, they offer vital support and training as well as important resources for those who may have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There are a lot of people that have been left mentally scarred and those centres provide a vital support for them.
“There are people that have served in the TA which have not been able to return to their regular jobs because of their injures, both physical and mental, and the treatment centre provides vital support for their recuperation.
“The centres also help to provide training to help people integrate back into civilian life and gain employment after their service ends.”
He went on: “What this petition is calling for is a Government-backed facility to be built in Northern Ireland for the many people from here and the south that serve in British forces.
“There is a lot of different services available, but this would bring all that together and highlight it to those service men and women who would benefit from its services.
“Plus it would mean that they will no longer have to travel to England for their treatment, which in itself is a trauma to go through.”
Ald Ball added: “In our region, more people than compared with the likes of Scotland sign up to serve, particularly in the reserve forces and to have a 24-hour facility providing much-needed care and support based in Northern Ireland would be fantastic.
“The response to the petition so far has been fantastic, nobody has turned me down, which is great.
“I have set a target of getting 500 signatures before handing in the forms, but already, in such a short period of time, I have around 200 so it is going very well.
“It has also helped raise awareness of the AA Veterans’ Support and people have even donated money towards the cause, it is very worthwhile.”