A Blackpool army veteran who has been left battling mental health issues since a tour of duty in Afghanistan, is facing a cut to her benefits right before Christmas.
Christine Merry, 42, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and depression, following a traumatic experience while serving in Helmand province.
The single mum says she has battled suicidal thoughts and even hallucinations during her depressive episodes and struggles to cope in places where there are a lot of people, noise or smells.
She was receiving Employment and Support Allowance but, after one of the regular periodic assessments at Warbreck Hill in Blackpool, she has been told she is fit for some work and have told her to visit a work coach at the Jobcentre to join a work-related activity group.
She said her benefit money has been reduced right before Christmas.
She said: “I am a single parent with mental health issues including chronic depression, anxiety and PTSD.
“I have a seven year old daughter who is now classed as a young carer. Some days I cannot even go into the playground at school with her, because it is just like a war zone to me.
“Anywhere there are lots of people, loud noises or strong smells.”
Blackpool-born Christine joined the army at 18 and served in the Royal Military Police and as a PT instructor and weapons specialist.
She served in various countries where the army has bases but was in Afghanistan in 2006 when the incident happened which has caused her so many problems.
She was in Helmand in an area subject to regular mortar attacks from the Taliban. As part of the international security force she was sent to a women’s hostel that had been hit by mortars.
She said she collapsed after witnessing the aftermath of the attack where women and children were killed and suffered horrific injuries.
“It was something no human eye should ever see.”
Since then she has undergone psychotherapy and been through the NHS’s Supporting Minds scheme.
She said being over six foot tall and physically fit, she thinks her appearance at the assessment interview led the assessor to believe she was more fit for work than she really is.
“As a former service person my appearance and behaviour are very important to me and I present myself very well.
“I am also in the fourth year of a law degree with the Open University, which I can do safely within the four walls of my house, so I think that also made them think I was capable of working.
“But I am now ‘in episode’, which will probably last until Christmas. Our money has been reduced and the expectation was that I attend a work focused interview in the centre of town on Christmas eve.”
In the nurse’s assessment she wrote: “She has not had non-specific suicidal thoughts since March this year and has attended therapy in the past.
“Due to the recentness of her non-specific suicidal thoughts and recent medication change it is appropriate to apply risk, as she would be at risk of deterioration in mental state if found fit to work.
“However, typical day history shows she is caring for her child and driving her to school. She manages her own bills and finances, she was well presented today and a good historian.
“She is unlikely to have a significant mental health disability and suitable tailored work related activity could be appropriate.”
But Christine said the assessment did not take into account her problems.
“The most important thing for me is that I have tried so hard to do what has been asked of me. I have followed the correct procedures for years and have ‘slogged away’ because, ultimately, I have had faith in the social security system this wonderful country provides, until now.
“I truly feel I have nowhere left to turn. I cannot trust these people to make a caring, compassionate and accurate assessment.
“I am utterly disappointed that a registered nurse felt that, after our interview, I could start work related activity after the registered nurse wrote that ‘The medical evidence indicates that there would be substantial mental or physical risk if the client were found capable work.’”
A DWP spokesman said:“We greatly value the contribution made by anyone who has served in the armed forces. Ms Merry has not been found fit for work, rather she has been placed in the work-related activity group and continues to receive ESA.
“Decisions for ESA are based on all the evidence provided, including that of a GP or medical specialist. Anyone who disagrees with a decision can ask for it to be reviewed and provide further evidence in support of their claim.”