Children playing soccer
Children playing socceriStock

A new international event for wounded armed forces veterans will celebrate the vital roles sports and family play in physical and emotional rehabilitation.

The five-day "Veterans Games" sporting event, scheduled to be held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, will host 100 British and Israeli wounded veterans and a total of 200 other people, including the vets' children, who will receive football coaching from Chelsea FC coaches.

During the week-long international event, over 100 wounded armed forces veterans from the UK and Israel will compete, try new sports, and learn about how their respective countries provide specialist care for those injured in combat.

The Chelsea Foundation is backing the event, which will be held during the last week of May. In addition, the Foundation will be providing football coaching by Chelsea FC coaches for families attending and specialist workshops for Israeli sports teachers.

The program includes a three-day conference with leading professionals discussing veteran PTSD, mental health and recovery. It is funded by philanthropic donations and supported by leading rehabilitation and forces organisations including The Royal Marines Charity, RAF Benevolent Fund, Rock to Recovery, Veteran Scotland, Combat Stress, The Not Forgotten Association and Association of Jewish ex-Service Men and Women (AJEX).

The Veteran Games and Conference are made possible by the efforts of the Embassy of Israel in London and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Veterans and their families will fly to Israel on an El Al flight. The entire program is funded by donations from The Patron Charitable Initiatives, The Pears Foundation, Rachel Charitable Trust, The Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation and The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust.

The program includes activities for families to join together and share their experiences. There will also be a conference on mental health, PTSD and recovery chaired by Sir Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, and consultant adviser in psychiatry to the British Army. Chairing from Israel will be Professor Zahava Solomon.

World-renowned psychiatrist Sir Simon Wessely, chair of the conference, said: "It is vitally important to look not just within our own country and its armed services, but also to look beyond. Some important issues will be missed if we are solely inward-looking. It’s in that spirit of collaboration that we have brought together a diverse group of medical experts and commentators to discuss some of these issues here in Tel Aviv. Connecting colleagues, friends and strangers can often have the most unexpected but perhaps the most interesting and rewarding outcomes."

Jonathan Ball, Chief Executive of The Royal Marines Charity, said: "Our association with the Veteran Games comes through the Royal Marines sustaining a disproportionate number of casualties in recent campaigns. This has left us with a large number of Marines who have sustained life-limiting or life-changing mental and physical injuries requiring through-life support, part of which is provided through sporting or adventure challenges."

"Each year at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, we support a Rehabilitation Triathlon, while wounded Royal Marines have won multiple medals at both the Invictus Games and Paralympics. Shared experiences for military veterans are a strong source of physical and mental healing, even more so across differing nationalities who are battling identical challenges. We are sure that this will ensure a powerful bond and new enduring friendships at the Games.

"However, the experiences and battles of their dependents are often forgotten. So we are delighted that the families of our Royal Marines will meet and share with others from Britain and Israel at these Games, and will find that shared common burdens become lighter. We are immensely grateful to the Sponsors who have made this possible through their generosity."

Veteran Games participant Matt Tomlinson, former Regimental Sergeant-Major of HM Royal Marines, is one of the most decorated commandos in recent times, having received numerous awards for bravery including the Military Cross. He added: "The transition to civvy street is hard enough but what you see on deployment can leave you with many intrusive thoughts that never go away. The many deaths of friends can take its toll on anyone’s mental health."

Bruce Buck, Chelsea FC Chairman: "It is a great privilege for us to support this initiative. At Chelsea FC we have supported veterans in our local communities for many years and have seen the healing power sports can have to overcome challenges and unite people. Our coaches will be meeting and working with veterans and their families throughout the week-long event, I trust that we will learn a lot from their ways of overcoming the many challenges they are facing every day."

Spencer Gelding, Chief Executive of Beit Halochem UK, said: "We’re extremely proud to be a founding partner of the inaugural Veteran Games & Conference. The contribution of the armed services is immeasurable, and it is our ambition to help pave the way for best practice with regards to physical and mental rehabilitation of wounded veterans."

"We greatly look forward to welcoming the UK veterans, representatives of many of the leading UK veteran organisations and academics involved in the conference. We hope this pioneering initiative will be the start of a long-term relationship. It will also be an opportunity to show the unique facilities that Beit Halochem offers to its 51,000 members and a chance to explore Israel’s rich culture and vibrant society."