Murder, suicide, accidental death ... the growing risk to Gulf war veterans

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The Independent Online
Troops who served in the Gulf war are 30 per cent more likely to die from accidents, suicide or murder than other servicemen, according to research revealed yesterday.

The Gulf War Inter-Parliamentary Group gave details of a study funded by the US government into the causes of deaths of soldiers since the war. Han Kang, a US Department of Veterans' Affairs official, found Gulf veterans were 1.3 times more likely to die from accidents, suicide or homicide than troops who did not go to there. The trend was even more pronounced among women.

The findings were obtained by Norman Jones, a medical adviser to the Royal British Legion which, with other servicemen's charities, sponsored him on a US tour to assess the latest medical research on Gulf illnesses.

His report yesterday prompted a attack on the Ministry of Defence by Edwina Currie, the former health minister, who sits on the all-party parliamentary group. She said: "There is no doubt now that something adverse happened to a large number of our troops out there in the Gulf. The MoD should never discount reports of problems from veterans. They should at all times take seriously remarks made by those returning from fields of conflict." Although the MoD was finally admitting to a problem, "the tragedy is that it has taken so long".

Hilary Meredith, a solicitor who also sits on the parliamentary group, said: "Look at the ages of those who have died. It cannot be right that these people who were so physically fit when they went are dying at such a young age so soon after coming back."

Ian Hill, chairman of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said 92 British Gulf veterans had died since the war. Major Hill, 50, who has himself become seriously ill, said: "My reactions are so impaired now that I would be lethal if I drove a car. But you have still got a lot of serving guys who have not come to terms with it yet. They are trying to work through their symptoms because they do not want to lose their careers and their homes."

A total of 1,200 Gulf veterans are suing the MoD for compensation for their illnesses, which they believe were caused by chemicals they were exposed to, either as inoculants or nerve agents.

The Labour MP Alf Morris accused the Government of being far less concerned than the US about trying to find the causes of the illnesses.

The British government's attitude was captured by Kipling's lines: "Oh it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' `Tommy Go Away' but it's `Thank you Mr Atkins' when the band begins to play."

Dr Kang's study also found Gulf veterans were more likely to have long- term fatigue than those who had fought in Vietnam. Dr Jones interviewed doctors and scientists working on three other big US research projects on Gulf war illnesses.

They have uncovered possible links between stress-related conditions and the physical illnesses resulting from exposure to chemicals. Copies of Dr Jones's report will go to the Commons defence select committee and to the MoD.

`I thought it was normal aches and pains ... now I can see something was wrong'

Paul Dowsett, a Royal Signals radio operator, was driving to Sandhurst for 9am parade. It was clear and there was little traffic on the M3 when his car swerved off the motorway, killing him.

Investigators found the vehicle had been in good condition and the inquest failed to explain the accident, which involved no other vehicle. A verdict of accidental death was recorded.

Dowsett was 21 when he died, two years ago next month. He was one of the youngest British soldiers in the Gulf war. In letters, he told of innumerable injections to immunise him against disease but after the war he took a paratroop fitness test and collapsed. He was put on a drip and doctors diagnosed conditions affecting his skin and kidneys. He returned to the Royal Signals but his family noticed personality changes. He also had mood swings and aches and pains.

His father, John, from Basildon, Essex, said: "I thought it was just normal aches and pains. Looking back, I can see something was wrong with him." He said some of Paul's friends who served with him in the Gulf had committed suicide after returning from the war. "Paul was a fantastic lad. When he went ... he was 17-year-old but he showed no fear. His death is a mystery. Nothing added up."