RAF veteran praises charity helping him adjust to sight loss

John Cantwell of Banbury receives his award  at  the Blind Veterans UK's Founder's Day awards
John Cantwell of Banbury receives his award at the Blind Veterans UK's Founder's Day awards

A 67-year-old RAF veteran from Banbury has spoken out about the “marvellous” support he has received from a national charity in helping him adjust to life with sight loss, in time for this year’s Eye Health Week, which runs until Sunday, September 27.

John Cantwell has been receiving support from Blind Veterans UK since 2010, after he lost his sight due to a side effect of a genetic skin disorder and says that the charity’s support has changed his life immensely.

John Cantwell and Nick Caplin at Blind Veterans UK awards.

John Cantwell and Nick Caplin at Blind Veterans UK awards.

John joined the RAF as a mechanic in 1970. During his 10-year service, he was stationed in the UK, Salalah, Anguila, Tehran and Cyprus, where hemet his wife, who was also serving the RAF.

John said: “I’d wanted to join the RAF since I was 15, so after I finished my apprenticeship in mechanical engineering, I joined up as soon as I could. I enjoyed my time in Service very much and I got to see an awful lot.”

Many years after leaving Service, John noticed a problem with his sight. As a side effect of the skin disorder ‘chicken skin’, the blood vessels behind John’s eyes were affected, and slowly formed what John describes as a mesh over his vision.

John said: “I first noticed something wrong when I was about 45, and since then my sight has slowly got worse. In 2010 I visited the vision aid clinic at my local hospital, where I got chatting to the girl testing my eyes and it came out that I’d served. She went away and came back with a card for Blind Veterans UK. I called the number on the card, and I’ve not looked back since!”

Since getting in touch with Blind Veterans UK, John has received vital services and support to help him and his family adjust to life with sight loss, both at home and at the charity’s centres. He’s also been able to try his hand at new activities, such as skiing.

“When I first went to the Brighton centre, I was given all sorts of information and training and I just remembering thinking ‘this is all too good to be true!’ and thought that there would be a catch to it all. But there really isn’t, the support really is that good.

“I enjoy my time at the centres immensely, and I’ve done a lot of activities. I go walking a lot as well and I’ve just completed a 100 mile walk with them, celebrating the charity’s centenary this year. I also set up a monthly lunch club about two years ago for the veterans supported by the charity in Oxfordshire. We have about 18 veterans and guides who come along each time, and we’ve become great friends. I meet up with a couple of the veterans every week while our partners go shopping!

“They’ve also helped me with equipment around the home, and with IT training. When I first started receiving support my son had just moved to Africa and with the IT training, I was able to keep in touch with him via email, which was marvellous.”

By supporting Eye Health Week, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of good eye health, Blind Veterans UK is hoping to reach out to ex-Service men and women who may be eligible for help and support.

Blind Veterans UK is the national charity for blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women, providing free, lifelong support to help veterans adjust to life with sight loss. The charity has three centres in Brighton, Sheffield and Llandudno and a network of welfare officers around the UK, providing specialist services and support, no matter when someone served or how they lost their sight.

John said: “I’m very, very glad I got in touch with Blind Veterans UK, the back-up and support is just marvellous. I’d encourage any veteran with sight loss to call them, it really is as good as it seems.”

If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, like John, call 0800 389 7979 or visit www.noonealone.org.uk to request Blind Veterans UK’s free support.