£2m stress payouts for troops are 'tip of iceberg'

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The Independent Online

More than £2m has been paid in compensation to British troops who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq.

The £2.3m payment is on top of £6.1m in compensation for the 179 servicemen killed and the hundreds injured since the 2003 invasion.

The Ministry of Defence figures were revealed after a request by The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act. Campaigners for veterans warned that the payments for mental health problems could be "the tip of the iceberg" as former members of the armed forces often do not seek help for several years.

Campaign groups warned that a similar flood of claims could follow from Afghanistan, where 325 UK servicemen have been killed since 2001. So far, only £317,000 in compensation has been paid for servicemen in Afghanistan, but many claims are thought to be in the pipeline.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and a prominent critic of the Iraq war, said yesterday: "No matter how generous financial compensation is, money can never compensate for physical injury or mental distress. These figures, which will undoubtedly see a substantial increase in future years, tell a story of how traumatic service in intense conflict can be."

Combat Stress, the charity specialising in the care of veterans' mental health, said it takes former service personnel an average of more than 14 years after they have left the services to approach it for help. It has a current caseload of more than 4,300 ex-servicemen and women, including 400 who served in Iraq and 102 in Afghanistan.

Of those taken on by Combat Stress as clinical cases since 2005, 75 per cent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Of these, 62 per cent have depression and alcohol problems.

According to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, which replied to the freedom of information request, compensation payments for dead and injured servicemen in Iraq peaked at £2.5m in 2005-06.

In addition to the common law compensation payments, the armed forces pension scheme made one-off payments totalling £14m in the last five years to the families of those killed in action. A further £9.5m in continuing payments has been made to the dependants of dead servicemen in the same period, although some related to those killed in other ways, such as road accidents.

The cost of the Afghan and Iraq wars to Britain has exceeded £20bn including fighting, diplomacy and reconstruction, according to official figures.