If I don't get this settled before I die, my family are going to get nothing

Gulf war syndrome: Dying veterans plan swift action against MoD to protect their families
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Veterans dying from conditions associated with so-called Gulf war syndrome plan quickfire individual legal actions against the Ministry of Defence because they fear they will not survive long enough for a collective action to be brought.

More than 1,000 veterans have registered legal claims against the MoD since the end of the war in 1991.

The collective action may not reach the courts for several years but 26 veterans have already died and dozens more are now critically ill.

Captain Ian Hill, from Manchester, said he would be dead this time next year and that his family might lose possible compensation if he died before getting to court. "I have got to think of my family for when I am dead and gone. If I don't get this settled before I die they are going to get nothing."

Capt Hill, 50, a father of four, is suffering from neurological damage, emphysema and chronic breathing difficulties.

His wife Carol, a registered nurse, has repeatedly had to revive him after he has stopped breathing during the night. "I have to kick-start him by giving him a thump in the chest," she said. "One of these nights, I am not going to be able to do it."

Capt Hill, who is chairman of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, was passed "A1 fit" by army doctors when he left for the Gulf in 1990. His responsibility was to set up the operating theatres to treat casualties of war, but he ended up being the first patient when he became sick after the hospital tents were sprayed with organophosphate pesticides (OPs). He was airlifted back to Britain where his condition has steadily deteriorated.

His wife said: "We have come to terms with the fact that this time next year we doubt very much whether he will be alive.

"The collective case and all the tests that are being planned will all be too late. They might help those who have 15 years to live but they won't help those that are dying now. Ian wants to speak while he is still here."

The MoD, which denies the existence of Gulf war syndrome, appeared to soften its position this month with an admission that OPs had been used more than was previously believed.

The Government has now commissioned research into the protection that was given to those coming into contact with OPs and the likely damage caused by the pesticides.

By the time the results are ready many more veterans may have died.

Captain Flynn White, 31, died last month just 13 days before the MoD announcement. He had been sent to the Gulf within days of graduating from Sandhurst. His mother Angela said: "As far as we know he was in perfect health. I think that whatever it was [that caused his illness] happened in the Gulf because he was certainly not as well when he came back."

Capt White, who had a wife and young child, was afflicted by a mysterious draining of his energy which he fought against.

His mother said: "He battled hard against what he thought was lethargy and he did enormous amounts of fitness training to get back on track."

However, his efforts in the gym produced no discernible improvement and he began to feel unstable on his feet. He lodged a legal claim with the MoD reporting a long list of symptoms including fatigue, diarrhoea, anxiety and loss of balance. In April 1994, he was diagnosed by doctors as having a brain tumour.

His mother said she would never know the actual cause of his illness. "His own view was that it was something that happened in the Gulf," she said.

Capt White joins a growing list of Gulf veterans who have died young: Cpl Peter Gowans died from chronic myeloid leukaemia three weeks ago at the age of 29; Cpl Gary Graham, died in May at the age of 31, from a tumour of the spine; Pte Simon Bottrell, 30, died in June last year from lymphoma; Mark Almond, 27, a senior aircraftsman, died of cancer in November 1992; L/Cpl Robert Robins, 25, died of a suspected brain haemorrhage in February 1991 after phoning home to say his Gulf war inoculations were giving him headaches.