Falklands hero backs mental health campaign

Fight For Our Veterans: Robert Lawrence led the battle on Mount Tumbledown and has faced the consequences ever since
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The Independent Online

One of the best-known heroes of the Falklands War has spoken out in support of The Independent's campaign for better mental health treatment for veterans yesterday.

Robert Lawrence was a 21-year-old Lieutenant leading troops at the battle of Mount Tumbledown just hours before the Argentinian surrender when he was shot by a sniper. His story would become one of the most shocking illustrations of the human cost of conflict.

Now 48, Mr Lawrence said: "They say that 340 soldiers have committed suicide since [the Falkland's campaign] compared to the 255 killed on the island. We are creating an enormous rod for our own backs. We are going to see more and more PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. There are going to be a lot of them who have had exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Mr Lawrence.

The Independent is campaigning for better mental health care for veterans who risked their lives in combat.

Mr Lawrence, an officer in the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, was initially paralysed by his wound. Despite winning the Military Cross for bravery, his wheelchair was relegated to the back of the remembrance service at St Paul's cathedral.

Battling through physical and mental anguish, he wrote When the Fighting is Over which inspired the film Tumbledown starring Colin Firth. So candid was his view of bayoneting the enemy and the aftermath of combat that the Ministry of Defence threatened an injunction against the programme, demanding a controversial scene be cut hours before it aired.

"PTSD is a major struggle. In simplistic terms, it is like living your life with a volume switch that suddenly goes up to 20 instead of 10. You have to live at 15 in a war zone. You come back to your family, who mean much more to you than the Taliban, but they do something to piss you off and you turn the volume switch up to 20 in a world where most people never go above 10," said Mr Lawrence.

The biggest problem facing veterans with PTSD is that the Government has closed all the military hospitals. Several high profile figures have called for a dedicated specialist unit – as a stand alone hospital or as an extension to the facilities provided by the Combat Stress charity, the acknowledged experts in the field, or the physical rehabilitation centre at Headley Court.

"We don't blame the army for it. The army has got a job to do. The Government has let us down since way back. It started with [prime minister Margaret] Thatcher. We won her an election. There were already concerns [about combat stress] but that was when they started shutting all the hospitals," Mr Lawrence said.

Defence Minister Kevan Jones said the Ministry of Defence is not complacent about the condition and is working to provide additional services. He said he has asked the Surgeon General to look at ways to track former service personnel in the NHS. Six pilot projects providing community mental health care for troops were a success, he insisted.

How can you help?

Visit our website at www.independent.co.uk/veteranscampaign and sign the petition for action