SLEEPING ROUGH under the stars to raise awareness and funds for homeless veterans, is one former soldier’s way of giving back to a charity which has changed his life.

Lance Corporal Michael Monaghan survived a devastating accident in Afghanistan 12 years ago, which threatened to leave him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Overcoming multiple barriers both physically and mentally, he has found a love for farming and working with animals, which brought him to our small holding here in Ayr.

Michael sat down with me to bravely share his story and why he is so passionate about giving back to the charity which has supported him over the years and is helping thousands of soldiers who slipped though the net and are living life on the streets.

At the age of 22, Michael began his first tour in Helmand Province in South Afghanistan. He spent four months with the Queens Welsh Dragoon Guards, and he recalled spending day after day with his unit, sweeping the roads for bombs to allow vehicles to pass through safely.

After a two-week break back in Ayr with his family, he returned to Afghanistan on December 1, 2008 and four days later, him and two members of his unit were driving back to base when their vehicle was blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED).

“It went off underneath my seat and I remember it was like something from a film, everything was in slow motion,” he told me, “we were flung around the inside of the cab, blood was everywhere. If the bomb had been slightly bigger then I wouldn’t be here.”

Michael spent two weeks in hospital in Afghanistan before being flown back to the UK and checking in to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham – where he would spend the next two years of his life recovering. The bones in both his feet had been blown apart during the blast and doctors told him that he would never walk again.

Determined not to live out the rest of his days in a wheelchair, Michael spent the next four years undergoing extensive surgery – including 21 operations – and eventually in 2012, he tracked down a doctor in Oxford willing to operate on his left foot and he was fitted with a prosthetic leg.

He told me that during that period he struggled with suicidal thoughts, facing the same four walls, day in, day out.

“A lot of the boys in there with me didn’t make it and took their own lives,” he said.

Michael continues to struggle with his mental health, but since the birth of his son, Cole, nine years ago, he has made it a priority to seek help.

“If it wasn’t for Cole, and the ongoing support of my family and friends, I wouldn’t be here,” he admitted. A few years ago, Michael checked himself in to Hollybush House for war veterans, which provides specialised care and counselling for ex-servicemen.

Despite having to take 28 pills a day to manage the pain in his right foot, whilst also battling with PTSD from the trauma of his accident, he still feels he has been one of the lucky ones and is building a bright future for him and his son.

Looking after animals and tractor work has been a huge therapy for Michael over the past few years, giving him a real purpose to get up in the morning.

He told me that thousands of soldiers end up on the streets as they aren’t able to make that transition and that homelessness is a legacy of the army that too often gets swept under the carpet.

The latest figures say that there are 6,000 homeless veterans living on UK streets, but Michael believes this number is far short of the reality.

This month, Michael, along with his nephew Shaun Stephen, best friend Scott McWhinnie and hundreds of others across the UK, are sleeping out under the stars to raise awareness of homelessness and vital funds for the Royal British Legion Industry (RBLI): which provides emergency shelter and housing support for homeless veterans, as well as career guidance to help those who are struggling to ease back into society.

It was Shaun who encouraged Michael to join in ‘The Great Tommy Sleep Out’ and explained why he himself, is taking part: “This is a time to reflect deeply about those who are not fortunate enough to have a solid roof over their heads and those who have spent time in the military and haven’t made it back to loved ones. This could easily have been my uncle. Our family is forever grateful he can stand beside us today and take part in this challenge.”

Michael, Shaun and Scott have so far raised over £500 and have pledged to sleep outside for 30 nights straight if they raise over £1000 – by the end of March. Shaun explained this amount would provide four veteran’s with ‘essential supplies’ to get them off the street and into accommodation. This includes PPE, toiletries, hot meals, fresh bedding, clothes, electrical items, and support and training to gain employment.

“All of this costs just £252 to get one veteran back in to earning an income and having a solid roof over their head,” said Shaun.

So far, the challenge has raised almost £75,000 across the UK and over 370 nights have been spent outdoors by members of the public.

The Great Tommy Sleep Out is a stark reminder of all those former servicemen who – unlike Michael – couldn’t make the transition back into normal life. It is our moral responsibility as a nation not to forget them, not to hide homelessness and to do what we can to ensure our brave soldiers who dedicated their lives for our country have a roof over their heads.