A BRAVE soldier took his own life just weeks after his friend who he fought alongside in Iraq committed suicide.
John Paul Finnigan, 34, and Kevin Williams, 29, developed a close bond when serving together on the front line.
But after leaving the British Army the pair both found it difficult to adapt to civilian life and struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In March Williams, who joined the Army when he was just 16, took his own life.
His death hit his close friend hard and just 12 weeks later Finnigan also killed himself.
Their devastated families have now called on the military and government to do more to help soldiers when they are discharged.
John Paul’s sister, Nicola, said: “He thought he would die as a soldier and when he came into civilian life he couldn’t cope. He suffered night terrors. He was scared of the dark and he could smell dead flesh.
“Kevin’s death really affected him. They were friends and they were happy together. It was the tipping point. When Kev died it really got in his head and pushed him over the edge.”
The pair grew close while serving with 2nd Battalion The Rifles in Operation Telic 9, which saw some of the toughest fighting in Iraq.
Once the soldiers saw three friends gunned down by a sniper as they fought insurgents in Basra.
Finnigan was medically discharged in 2010 after suffering hearing loss when a mortar bomb exploded near him.
But the father-of-three from Merseyside struggled to cope when he returned to civilian life.
His sister told the Mail on Sunday: “He told me there were eight former soldiers who had taken their lives within eight months. The last one was Kevin. It started to eat away at him”.
His younger brother, Steven, said: “He joined the army because he wanted structure in his life. But when he was discharged he used to taxi injured soldiers to hospitals all around the country. It just tormented him. Not enough was done to help him.”
Williams, the youngest rifleman to serve in Iraq, was found by police at his home in Basildon, in Essex, in March.
He joined the Army aged 16 after seeing soldiers on TV and flew out to Iraq the day he turned 18.
Williams shook hands with the Queen in 2006 when he was 17.
But when he was discharged from the army aged 22, he found the adjustment difficult.
In a short documentary recorded before his death he said: “Returning to civilian life was a big shock. The skills I learned, especially being in the infantry regiment, was all combat based, so civilian life doesn’t really have any combat…I was pretty much useless.
“I just felt sad all the time, I lost a friend out there and didn’t really grieve until I got back. I didn’t know how to handle normal everyday tasks.”
His sister Katherine said: “He was ticking the boxes in what society wants you to have but at the end of the day it became the overwhelming factor for him.
“The military and the government need to do more considering they are sending them to war, especially as it is not a war we wanted.”
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Sue Freeth, the chief executive of Combat Stress, said: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very serious mental health condition that affects a small but significant number of veterans.
“Left untreated, it can have a devastating impact on those affected and their loved ones.”
The MoD said: “Any suicide is a tragedy. Help is available through the 24-hour mental health helpline and we have increased spending to £22million a year.”