Letter: Gulf veterans' plight

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Sir: You report (2 December) that Ministry of Defence police, trying to recover documents relating to the use of depleted uranium ammunition in the Gulf war, have raided the homes of two veterans.

As a patron of the Royal British Legion Branch of the Gulf Veterans' Association I would deplore any action by veterans which might carry them outside the law in their efforts to draw attention to the plight of their many sick comrades. The two men are not members of the branch and I hope they have taken no action which would detract from the vital service its officers provide to Gulf veterans and their families.

Breaking the law cannot be condoned. Nevertheless, the raids have highlighted the culture of denial that has pervaded the Ministry of Defence since the first reports of sickness in members of Her Majesty's armed forces returning from the Gulf in 1991.

There may be as many as 5,000 British servicemen and women whose quality of life has been seriously affected since the Gulf war. Their suicide rate is running at unacceptable levels. In the absence of definitive causation, we should not be surprised if they attempted to find their own answers to the many questions raised by the polysymptomatic nature of their illnesses. Sadly, some choose to publicise information which may be misleading and which, I am aware, creates an element of panic in some of the more susceptible veterans.

It is now nearly eight years since the Gulf war. Is it not time for the Government to relax its defensive posture, listen to and believe the sick veterans and provided them with the medical diagnosis, treatment and financial support they rightly seek?

On 11 June 1998 the Royal British Legion wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a public inquiry into the way in which the aftermath of the Gulf war has been handled. They have not had the courtesy of a response. Until we know the answers to all the questions associated with Gulf war illnesses we are not going to be able to prevent a repetition in the future. There should be an immediate public inquiry.

The Countess of MAR

House of Lords

London SW1