A VETERAN who came back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder has praised a new NHS centre design-ed to help former servicemen.

Former corporal Neil Littlewood said the facility, which will provide specialist treatment for retired military personnel battling mental illnesses, was exactly what he was looking for when he left the Army in 2007.

The Abingdon dad-of-two, 34, suffered a breakdown after witnessing a horrific bomb blast that killed three of his friends, but had to fight for years to receive any NHS treatment.

Private Leon Spicer, Private Phillip Hewett and 2nd Lieutenant Richard Shearer were killed in Iraq in July 2005.

Cpl Littlewood struggled to cope with the memories of the horrific ordeal, and by the end of 2005 it had become all too much for him and he considered killing himself.

Opening in the new year, the South Central Veterans Mental Health Service will provide therapy to personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety when it opens in Erleigh Road, Reading.

More than a quarter of British veterans suffer mental disorders and the £600,000 scheme will offer care to victims who live in Oxfordshire.

Mr Littlewood said: “It is definitely a good idea.

“There was nothing when I came back seven years ago. No help at all.

“I started getting all the PTSD symptoms a few months afterwards. Then I had to fight hard to get some help and I got it in the end.

“But there are going to be more and more young people needing support when they come back from Afghanistan.

“It’s a long drawn-out process but if they catch it early enough people can avoid having breakdowns.

“There are a lot more mental health nurses out in theatre in places like Camp Bastion and the services are generally getting a lot better.

“But they always need more. There is still a stigma attached to it, but hopefully the more centres like this there are the more that will lessen.”

The charity Combat Stress, which helped Mr Littlewood overcome his problems, will be among those supporting Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust when the service starts in the new year.

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Deborah Lee said: “We want to make it easier for veterans to get the services they need.

“Ex-military personnel might prefer to suffer in silence rather than admit they need help.

“We want to break down that stigma and ensure that everything that can be done for them will be done.”

Director of Combat Stress Lt Col Peter Poole, said: “The service will offer more opportunities for veterans to get access to the health services they need, both mental and physical.”

The service will also be available to veterans from Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.