More than 60 wounded veterans and their families from the United Kingdom visited Israel for the third Veterans Games last week, a friendly competition against their Israeli counterparts that included swimming, shooting and CrossFit events.
Ex-servicemen and women from across the British Armed Forces who lost limbs in combat or are battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were selected to compete by seven U.K. nonprofit groups. Competitors did not have to reach a certain sporting standard to qualify.
The event presents a great opportunity for veterans to bond as well as take in the sights and sounds of Israel.
The athletes competed at the Beit Halochem (“Warriors’ House”) rehabilitation, sports and recreation Center in Tel Aviv. The games were organized by Beit Halochem UK and the IDF Disabled Veterans Fund.
Beit Halochem UK raises awareness and funds to help support Israel’s wounded veterans. In Israel, Beit Halochem, with centers also in Jerusalem and Beersheva, and one on the way in Ashdod, offers 51,000 wounded soldiers and victims of terrorism support for the rest of their lives.
Ben Roberts, 42, a veteran from Essex who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, told JNS, “I have post traumatic stress disorder and in 2010 was diagnosed with combat stress insomnia.
“I took part in the Games last year and they have inspired me, shown me that I have a purpose and I have worth and that there are people out there that are willing to support us and show us British veterans that we can achieve things even with mental health. The Games for me personally were a major spiritual level as well and the energy was just amazing here and it has helped me through the year to where we are today,” Roberts said.
Families stood on the sidelines and cheered as their loved ones tested their mettle in friendly competition. Family members often struggle when a wounded veteran returns and the role they play in their loved one’s recovery is crucial. To keep children entertained, a soccer camp was simultaneously held.
Craig Lundberg, 37, is completely blind after being hit by two rocket-propelled grenades that are usually used for targeting helicopters or armored vehicles while on his second tour of Iraq in 2007.
“It feels amazing to have my family along that they can see no matter what life throws at you, you can focus and get around it. I am really honored to be here and I competed in CrossFit and swimming and won a silver medal,” he told JNS.
“It wasn’t expected because there is some great competition. For the lifting of weights and running, my son stood at one end, my partner at the other, and they called to me so I could hear and get from point A to point B, so it was a real family event,” he said.
“It is massively important that they are involved. Every day the family live with the sacrifice of living with a blind partner, which isn’t the easiest sometimes, so to have them here giving support has been top notch,” Lundberg said.
British Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs Johnny Mercer accompanied the U.K. delegation. Mercer served three tours in Afghanistan with the Royal Artillery and retired in December 2013 with the rank of captain.
“We traditionally look at Israel and certainly the data you have and areas that you have the best practice of. I’m trying to make the U.K. the best country in the world to be a veteran, and to do that we need to work with our friends and partners to understand what they’re doing that works really well so that we can replicate that in the U.K.,” he told JNS.
Mercer continued, “It’s amazing to be out here in Israel. There’s nothing quite like an Israeli welcome, seeing the Veterans Games and using the power of sports as a vehicle for recovery. It’s extraordinary.”
The games were timed to coincide with half-term school vacation in the United Kingdom. After sporting competition in the mornings, the visitors had the chance to visit historical sites in Jerusalem, experience the healing powers of the Dead Sea and enjoy culinary experiences and even a graffiti tour in Tel Aviv.