Prince Harry hails 'amazing' work of UK armed forces veterans charity

British Prince Harry has thanked staff at Veterans UK for their "amazing work" as he marked the 25th anniversary of its helpline service.

The 24-hour Blackpool-based helpline provides welfare support for ex-servicemen and women and their families in partnership with charities and support networks and receives hundreds of calls every day.

The UK Ministry of Defence service also administers pension and compensation schemes for those injured or bereaved through service in the Armed Forces.

Harry met members who have received help from Veterans UK, including widow Jemma Neilson, 29, of Preston, whose husband Darren, 31, was killed four months ago in a tank explosion during a training exercise at Castlemartin, west Wales.

She explained how she had received assistance over her pension entitlement and access to the Armed Forces compensation scheme.

Mrs Neilson and daughter Millie, eight, moved out of military accommodation following the loss of her husband, who had been her childhood sweetheart since the age of 14.

They are living with her parents but with the continuing help of Veterans UK she hopes to buy her own home.

She said: "The service has been absolutely invaluable. I don't know where I would be without it."

Mrs Neilson said Harry was "so friendly" and had "instantly" put her at ease with his listening skills.

Retired RAF squadron leader Stephen Flaherty, 66, who receives a war disablement pension, said the Prince was "a delight".

He said: "He has a very detailed knowledge of an awful lot, without a shadow of a doubt. A very caring person."

Mr Flaherty, from Lytham, stepped down from flying in 1986 because of medical issues and was eventually put in touch with Veterans UK.

He said: "They tell you about allowances that I had never heard of. They are always there.

"I am very privileged to be all to call on them."

During a tour of the site in Norcross, Harry listened in to a call to helpline adviser Lyndsay Ethell, 32, as she dealt with a pensions query.

Ms Ethell said: "It was a great honour meeting Prince Harry, a once in a lifetime opportunity that I feel extremely privileged to be part of.

"The whole helpline deserve this recognition for all the hard work we do."

Jon Parkin, head of Veterans UK, said: "I was delighted to welcome Prince Harry to Veterans UK. I am hugely inspired by his work with veterans, so I was very proud to be able to demonstrate the breadth of services we provide here."

Children of Veterans UK staff later presented the Prince with a brass Passchendaele commemorative poppy made from shell fuses found on First World War battlefields.

Harry then unveiled a plaque to mark 25 years of operation from the Norcross site and told onlookers: "Happy anniversary everyone. Thank you for all the amazing work that you have been doing and see you in another 25 years."

The Prince later returned to the Lancashire village St Michael's on Wyre, which was devastated by flooding at the end of 2015 when 1,700 businesses and homes were damaged.

He first visited the village in February last year and was officially reopening the village hall at a reception attended by those who played a crucial response to the flood.

As part of a day of engagements in Lancashire, the Prince will also meet young people at Brockholes Nature Reserve, Preston, where he will learn about the MyPlace project which aims to empower young people by encouraging them to take action in environmental activity.

Harry will end the day by visiting the Sir Tom Finney Soccer Development Centre and the Lancashire Bombers Wheelchair Basketball Club at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) sports arena.


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