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Corporal Speaks Out

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 Corporal Speaks Out will be covering the lack of support from the highest level (namely that of Government) of which ex-service members have to endure. Tune in between 8pm - 9pm (25 03 2009) our guests will include ex-service personnel.

For the purposes of this report it will be relevant to achieve as much background as possible in order to facillitate a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances these soldiers are forced to face on a daily basis.

An up-to-date article from the BBC (28 02 09) highlights their plight and one Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, Britains most highly decorated soldier, having been awarded the Victoria Cross is speaking out.

He accuses the government essentially of failing to help ex-servicemen and women suffering mental health problems. He says, that it is “disgraceful” that some veterans struggled to get treatment.

In addition he argues the Army provided “first-class” treatment but ex-soldiers were forced to wait on the NHS.

However the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have declared that a “huge amount of work” was being done on mental illness.

L/Cpl Beharry, who was given the VC for twice leading comrades to safety during attacks in Iraq, called on the government to give more help to his comrades suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, depression and mental breakdowns.

Moreover, the 29 year old informed BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he has to live with constant pain, nightmares, mood swings and unexplained rages, five years after receiving a serious head wound.

Notwithstanding, he had to wait three hours in hospital to see an NHS doctor about his trauma.

“A lot of soldiers get discharged from the Army and have to be on the NHS for treatment.

“Having experienced it as a serving soldier, what it’s like being on the NHS, I feel it’s ridiculous because these ex-servicemen and women would not get that treatment they really need. What’s going to happen to them?”

Mental symptoms can take a long time to surface and they are harder to deal with in civilian life, he said.

“[In the Army], we have places to go and get the help at the moment but my worry is that ex-servicemen and women, if something like that happens to them and they have to wait two to four hours on the NHS.”

In an earlier interview with the Independent’s Terri Judd (28 02 09) he argues, ‘it was “disgraceful” that those who had served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan were forced to wait for NHS treatment and charities had been forced to step in where ministers had failed.’

Furthermore he says, “You spend six months on the battlefield and you have to defend yourself every day and then you come back to normal life and go to Tesco and someone runs into your trolley.

“You have to stop and think - it is only a trolley, you are not on the battlefield.”

Yet this is not a new tale by any stretch of the imagination. Issues surrounding combating stress were reported back in October 2007. Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson who was left seriously disabled after a landmine exploded under his Land Rover in Iraq is to receive more compensation. In addition the government were to increase funding for veterans’ charity Combat Stress.

It is the only charity in the UK offering residential treatment to ex-servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). From this perspective issues are being addressed, however not far enough for some.

John Flynn was diagnosed with PTSD eleven years after leaving the forces. He had been sneaking around, spying on people and, at times, living rough.

His behaviour was a symptom of PTSD. He was trying to gather information on people just as he did while serving in Northern Ireland.

“I don’t know why I was doing this,” he says.

“I was awkward with my family and my mum. I used to go off and drink. They were worried about me.”

According to Robert Marsh, director of fundraising and PR for the charity, says veterans wait on average 13 years before they are referred to Combat Stress.

The reasons for this are complex. Some have tried going to their GPs, whereas others find their pride holds them back. The forces have a obligatory “can-do” attitude.

It has also been established that both servicemen and women eaving the forces after just a few years struggle more to settle into civilian life than those of many years’ service.

Essentially, the MoD assists people leaving to find housing and jobs. However prority is given to long-servers.

The Commons public accounts committee found those leaving sooner and getting less support were “more vulnerable” to homelessness.

Best selling author Andy McNab argues that Britain faces a “timebomb” of mental health problems among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

He spoke out on fate of the men he served with in the SAS. Two of them have killed themselves and a third has shot his girlfriend dead.

The government said most ex-service personnel made “a smooth transition to civilian life”, but “robust systems” were in place to help the remainder.

McNab said care was “totally inadequate” and the NHS was woefully unprepared to deal with the estimated 15% of troops currently serving who will go on to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

He further adds, “I’ve seen for myself the appalling way that our soldiers are hung out to dry.”

Indeed he sates, “The idea held by the government that the majority of service personnel experience a smooth transition into civilian life is delusional and largely false.

“Years of service institutionalise men and women who are then thrust back into society with minimal co-ordination and long term support.

“There is a pervading sense of literally being thrown out of the club.”

Some statistics will be relevant at this point. According to the BBC (04 11 08) nearly 4,000 new cases of mental health disorder were diagnosed among armed services personnel last year.

Statistics showed there were 3,917 new cases of disorder in 2007, amounting to 4.5 per 1,000 forces members.

They also showed that personnel sent to Afghanistan or Iraq were more likely to suffer post traumatic stress disorder.

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