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Help for Heroes celebrates third birthday

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Media captionNeil Heritage lost both of his legs in a bomb blast

Help for Heroes is celebrating its third birthday after raising a remarkable £70m.

Its original aim was to fund a single swimming pool at a rehabilitation centre, but the charity is now helping to fund five recovery centres, other military charities such as Combat Stress and individual soldiers and their families.

Neil Heritage is celebrating turning 30. It is a birthday he nearly did not see.

In 2004, both his legs were blown off by a suicide bomber in Iraq while he was serving with an Army bomb disposal team.

Today, he is at the Help for Heroes office, and some of the staff have brought in a chocolate cake to mark his birthday and the charity's own milestone.

Mr Heritage turned to the charity after he had left the Army and its safety net of welfare officers and medical care.

He missed out on the armed forces lump-sum compensation scheme because both his legs were blown off just a few months before it took effect. Although he would rather not talk about it, the strain on his family has been profound.

"At the time when I was blown up in November 2004, I didn't know my girlfriend was pregnant with our daughter," he said.

"What it meant was that for the next few years after being injured, you're trying rehabilitate yourself, come off medication and learn to walk again and things like that.

"So obviously, I didn't get that same spending time with the baby and family that I would have had."

Inner scars

On the practical side, more recently he urgently needed new sockets so he could use his prosthetic legs comfortably.

Help for Heroes provided the £12,000 needed from its 72-hour turnaround "quick reaction fund" so he did not have to wait, and could get out of his wheelchair and go to work. Mr Heritage is currently a teaching assistant at a local school.

Like him, Sergeant Major Andy Newall does not complain.

He is still serving with the Parachute Regiment, although he is having to deal with the long-term effects of being shot in Musa Qala in Helmand four years ago, as he led reinforcements in to help colleagues under siege.

The bullet, fired by an Afghan policeman with Taliban sympathies, shattered his arm in 60 places. The scars are clearly visible. Less visible, but just as damaging, are the scars that cannot be seen.

"Unfortunately, I got divorced. The problem was that I changed my personality through the amount of prescription drugs I was taking while I was being treated. I got aggressive and paranoid, and basically I wasn't myself, " he says.

"My wife tried for a long time, but while the Army helped me, and I even went to see the psychiatrist, there was no help for my wife. The wives have to do it themselves, which is something that should be addressed."

One-stop shop

Both men have also helped raise money for the charity. It has just presented the cheque for one of the latest projects it is backing - adapting rooms at the Union Jack Club in London, so that the wounded and their families can stay there.

The charity was set up three years ago by Bryn and Emma Parry, who wanted to do something to help while their own son was serving in Afghanistan. The original aim - to build a swimming pool at Headley Court, an armed forces rehabilitation centre in Surrey - has long since been surpassed.

Several recovery centres are now being built, with one in Scotland already up and running. The aim now is to help create a one-stop shop which addresses all the issues - physical, emotional and financial - faced by Britain's wounded servicemen and women and their families.

"What I want to do is make sure that if someone has a problem because he stood on an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan, he doesn't have to ring lots of different places," said Mr Parry.

"So he can go somewhere if he's had his legs blown off and say 'my legs don't fit, my wife is depressed, I need practical help, my house needs adaptation'.

"All the agencies - government, local government, healthcare, charities - which are out there should all be in one place so he can access it."

"It is really simple, though I am feeling frustration that we haven't got there as fast as we should," he added.

He is grateful to all those who have given money to Help For Heroes, and wants the work to continue.

"When you see a 22-year-old who gets his leg blown off, everybody is thinking about him today," he says. "But when he's 40, when he's 60, or when he's 80 - are we still going to be there for him? We have to be."

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