Betrayal of our wounded veterans: ‘I served my country. Then they turned their backs’

Former soldiers with severe injuries are losing their benefits and being told they are fit to work

When former Lance-Corporal Mark Dryden walked in to be assessed for the new incapacity benefit, the doctor asked him if he was right-handed. If it was a joke, it was lost on the soldier, whose right arm was blown off in Iraq by a roadside bomb that killed a close friend. Eight years after being promised that Britain would honour its duty to him as an amputee war veteran, Mr Dryden, 35, who has severely limited use of his other arm and post-traumatic stress disorder, was told his benefit was being withdrawn because he was considered fit for work.

"If I am fit for work, why can't I join the Army again?" said the former non-commissioned officer in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. "When they said I had to go back to work, I had an anxiety attack, the depression sank back in. When it [the injury] happened I felt let down by the Army, not my unit or my mates, but the military and now I feel let down by the Government.

"It is not that I am idle. I would love to work – be a plumber or a joiner – but I physically can't."

Those once entitled to incapacity benefit must now be reassessed for employment and support allowance (ESA) and severely injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are being told they have to undergo tests. Injured soldiers insist it makes a mockery of David Cameron's promise to "respect and revere" veterans with special treatment.

"People in the military don't get an easier ride than anybody else," said Michael Ivatt, of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, who suggested that servicemen and women were pushing themselves through the pain barrier to complete tasks, only to find it meant they were "fit for work" and no longer eligible for benefits.

This month, Greg Wood, a former Royal Navy doctor, resigned from Atos, saying the system was "unfair and skewed against the claimant". Atos, which carries out the assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions, has been criticised by campaigners but insists it operates a professional and compassionate service.

For Mr Dryden, who has no index finger, being told to pick up a £1 coin by the Atos healthcare practitioner was humiliating. He said having to go cap in hand for benefits made him feel like "scum", adding: "It was utterly degrading. He asked if I was right handed and when I said, 'Do you see a right hand on my body?" he said, 'I'll take that as a no'."

"Once we are no use to them, they just turn their backs. They don't want to know," agreed former Sgt Jean Reno, 39, who has also been told his benefit is being withdrawn as he is fit for work despite severe brain injuries that have left him with no short-term memory, double vision, anxiety attacks, pain, an inability to focus for long periods and depression.

After16 years in the Royal Artillery and tours of Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Sgt Reno returned from Iraq in 2005 with depression and alcohol problems. He crashed his car and suffered multiple fractures and brain damage. "I served Queen and country and was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice fighting all their conflicts. Now in my time of need they have just turned their back. If it hadn't been for the military charities I would probably be on the street," he said. "We just want recognition for what we have done, serving our country."

Mr Dryden applied for incapacity benefit after being advised by a social worker that he would need it to make national insurance payments towards a pension. Along with Mr Reno, he is taking his case to tribunal but it could take months. A spokesman for the DWP said more severely disabled people were being given long-term support, adding: "We owe the men and women who have served their country a huge debt of gratitude. We will do everything to help them to find work or make sure they get benefits."

Atos rejected criticsm of its work capability assessments, saying: "We have a large team of fully trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who provide a professional and compassionate service."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific