Updated 29 September 2020
After severe battlefield injuries left him with complications, former paratrooper Damien struggled to find affordable life insurance back home. Then he thought to seek advice from a protection specialist. Article by Nick Green.
‘Out in Iraq of course, things were different as far as life insurance goes. The army takes care of all that. It’s when you come home that the problems can start. Then you realise you have to take care of it yourself.’
It’s hard to picture the softly-spoken Damien sat in the back of a Chinook helicopter thundering over the desert. Having served eight years in the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, he was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and was among the first to go over the border. Part of a QRF (Quick Reaction Force), his role was to respond to emergencies that might require reinforcements. He describes it as if reminiscing about a fairly dull office job.
‘Not much happened at first. It wasn’t what you saw on TV – most of the big stuff had already happened, the Americans had done their thing. My first mission was securing the oil fields and making sure no-one set them on fire again. So we had just bits and bobs, and it was like that until, finally, I had just three days left before flying home to England.
‘And then we got the dreaded call.’
Unrest had broken out in a small town in southeast Iraq, and the 1st Battalion was needed. Damien and his fellow Paras flew out in the hope that they could protect their colleagues and try to restore calm. However, by the time they arrived the violence had escalated significantly, and they found their Chinook under fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
‘Our pilot managed to keep us in the air,’ Damien recalls. ‘But two bullets got past the helicopter’s armour and both of them hit me in the head – one from below, and a ricochet from above. So we never landed, and they flew me back to Kuwait for treatment, and then it was home to Birmingham. Where I would have been anyway, in a couple of days! So that was bad timing, you might say.’
Despite his appalling injuries Damien pulled through, thanks to a combination of incredible resilience and a titanium plate to repair his skull. Recovery remained an uphill struggle, however, as the head wounds meant he was now living with epilepsy. When it came to civilian life, he found he had a new battle on his hands: finding someone who would insure him.
Damien worked his way back to fitness and leads an active life, including a regular kickboxing class, and has his epilepsy largely under control with medication. But he still found it a massive problem finding affordable life insurance. As soon as he revealed his condition, and the causes of it, the questions started coming thick and fast. Damien had no choice but to accept the best offer he could find, but as he recalls, ‘The premiums were ridiculous.’ Then even that policy expired, and he was left wondering if he would ever be able to replace it.
Then fate took a hand. Another member of Damien’s kickboxing class was Alan Knowles, who by chance had also been to school with Damien’s wife. Alan happened to be one of the directors of Cura, the Special Risks Bureau – a protection adviser with a particular interest in helping those who might struggle to find insurance due to high-risk or non-standard circumstances. Damien was doubtful at first that they would be able to help him, but his wife persuaded him to go in for a chat.
‘Alan said, come in, we’ll just have a chat and a brew, so I wasn’t expecting too much from that first meeting,’ says Damien. ‘It turned out that he’d already found a few policies before I even came in, and right there and then we looked through them and narrowed it down to one that did the job for me. It was very personal, and much better than being on the phone to someone with a computer and a list of questions, when you’re not really knowing what you’re agreeing to!’
By taking this personal, one-to-one approach, Alan was able to find Damien life and critical illness insurance that more accurately reflected his true level of risk – as opposed to the box-ticking processes used by the big insurance providers, which would end up categorising Damien as high-risk and thus very costly to insure.
Having his life and critical illness insurance in place, and at affordable premiums, has been a huge relief. ‘It’s made a hundred per cent difference to me, knowing I have this cover now. And also knowing that if I have any issues, or don’t understand something, I can ask Alan again and he’ll explain it to me.’
Damien understands better than most the importance of having adequate protection, and how everything can change in the space of a moment. Reflecting on that moment in the helicopter, he says ruefully, ‘I had holidays booked and everything. And loads of holiday money to spend! ’Cos about the only things I ever bought out there were cans of Coke, to cool off in that heat.’
It’s a powerful reminder of just how unpredictable life can be, and of how everyone needs a safety net to guard against the unexpected.
Alan Knowles from Cura says, ‘Helping Damien was an honour. Damien has served his country and the very least that I could do was listen to his story and make sure that insurers listen to the person behind the conditions. All too often insurance forms get bogged down with medical conditions and the things that people cannot do. My job is to go past those forms and tell the insurers about the actual person that is applying for the cover. I focus on what a person can do and what they are achieving in life, regardless of where they have come from. Getting the insurance for Damien was not straightforward; it needed a lot of debate with insurers. He was great throughout the whole time, trusting that I was there to support him.’
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