The parents of an Army veteran who is believed to have taken his life say he was failed by the Ministry Of Defence.
Brett Savage, who was 32 and served in Afghanistan, had previously told BBC News NI that the army was not doing enough to help young soldiers when they returned to civilian life.
His body was found at his home in Newtownards at the weekend.
His parents Noel and Dolores Savage said that the Army “did nothing” to help their son.
“We are totally and utterly heartbroken,” said Mrs Savage.
“He was my world. He would’ve done anything for anyone, he was so kind.”
But he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when he left the Army.
“The doctor said that he could be walking down the street and it could be a noise or a smell and it would set him off,” explained his mother.
“He just couldn’t control it.
“When they go back from tours like that, they should have someone who can help them deal with all the emotions, with what they’ve seen and been through. There’s nothing, they’re just left.
“I feel very sad for all the ones who are going through all of this and I hope that if what happened to Brett is made public it’ll maybe help somebody else and maybe the Army will step back and think of what to do when they’re in these situations.
“When they’re in the Army, they have their meals at certain times, do things at set times, and once they’re out they don’t have that.
“They can’t cope with all the anger and emotions and what they’ve been through so they really do need some counselling and help. There is no help.”
Veterans’ charity Beyond The Battlefield was a huge support for Brett Savage, his family say.
“All the Army do is count Brett like a number,” his father Noel said.
“When he came back [from war] with the problems, I wouldn’t let him go back and all they wanted to do was get him back so he ended up going AWOL.”
Positive news ‘Carrying his demons’
His father told BBC News NI that he carried “his demons” and on bad days he would “lock himself away and watch Star Wars from start to finish or some movies”.
“That’s how he got through those couple of bad days and then he would bounce in to us, asking his mum what there was to eat.
“The demons had gone then, until the next time.
“Unfortunately they kept coming back.
“He just couldn’t fathom his demons that he carried, and he carried them big time. Unfortunately they got him in the end.
“We thought he was OK. He did say he would never do what he did.”
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show on Friday, Ulster Unionist MLA and former soldier Doug Beattie spoke about his relationship with Mr Savage.
He said his death was “devastating” and that suicide was not just a problem in the military, but was “societal”.
Mr Beattie said he had served together with him in the Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan, and Mr Savage was later under his command as an army reservist in Belfast.
“He was a young, fit man, a good-looking guy. Really enjoyed life, had many friends. Was sociable, personable. A really great soldier. Kind hearted,” he said.
“I also saw how the demons were affecting him, I saw how his mental health degraded over time. We attempted at times to try and give him help.
“You always think: ‘Was there one more thing that I could do? Could I have reached out to him for a cup of coffee? Could I give him a phone call?’
“There will be people out there who knew Brett who will be saying exactly the same as me.”
Mr Beattie said the possibility of the minister of defence working with the families of soldiers to help facilitate their return from combat was something that should be considered.
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Positive news ‘Deeply saddened’
In 2016, Brett Savage took part in a BBC NI radio documentary Losing the Battle.
The programme examined some of the mental health challenges facing many young soldiers in Northern Ireland after they returned from recent wars.
The then 29-year-old reflected on his own post-war struggles after his military service with the Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan ended.
He said: “I didn’t expect my life to be like this now. Never. You know, I can’t sleep and stuff. Stupid things remind me of things.”
Johnny Mercer, the Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, said he was “deeply saddened” by Mr Savage’s death.
“PTSD is a serious and debilitating condition. There is a range of help available, and I am determined to do all I can to make sure that veterans know where they can turn to in times of need.”
The Ministry of Defence said it would be inappropriate to comment further until the coroner had concluded their investigation.
The chief executive officer of Beyond the Battlefield, a Northern Ireland-based veterans’ charity which supported Mr Savage, described his death as “untimely”.
Annemarie Hastings said Mr Savage had initially come to the charity seeking help and proceeded to assist the charity by reaching out to other veterans who were struggling after their military service ended.
His funeral service took place in Newtownards on Friday, not far from the local war memorial.
Floral tributes have been placed at the memorial, one of them remembering Brett Savage as “a warrior”.
For information and support on mental health, access the BBC Action Line.
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