Gulf War veterans 'refused war pensions'

Hundreds of sick Gulf War veterans are still having to go through drawn-out and distressing appeals to get war pensions, a charity said today.

Those left ill from the 1990-1991 conflict must seek compensation for each individual symptom because the Ministry of Defence refuses to recognise "Gulf War Syndrome" as a medical condition, according to the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association (NGVFA).

Many give up after repeatedly having their disabilities challenged and their claims rejected, the group said.

The Hull-based NGVFA says 9,700 British veterans have suffered from a cocktail of Gulf War-related health problems, typically including chronic headaches, cognitive difficulties, depression, unexplained fatigue, rashes and breathing problems.

But nearly 20 years after the conflict to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, many are still battling to receive war pensions.

NGVFA trustee Shaun Rusling said the Gulf veterans had been treated in an "absolutely despicable manner".

He said hundreds were still going through the appeals process to get compensated for their suffering and accused the MoD of "putting up fences" to stop them getting the pensions they are due.

Describing the veterans as "forgotten heroes", he claimed they were not getting the medical care they need because Gulf War Syndrome was not recognised.

Mr Rusling said: "Nine times out of ten, Gulf War veterans' applications for war pensions are rejected.

"The veterans obviously claim for Gulf War Syndrome. They turn around and say, 'no such condition'. The veterans have to apply for every sign and symptom.

"We have asked them (the MoD) to accept Gulf War Syndrome so the veterans don't have to go through further distress.

"What we have asked them to do is just pension them for Gulf War Syndrome. They don't want to accept that."

He said he and other soldiers invariably broke down when they had to go through the "distressing" war pensions appeals process.

"The veterans, ill as they are, just give up because of the stress that they're put through at the tribunals," he said.

Mr Rusling, 51, from Hull, a former Parachute Regiment medic who is himself a Gulf veteran, won a ground-breaking ruling in May 2002 when a pensions appeal tribunal officially recognised Gulf War Syndrome as a disease.

Last year a landmark study for the US Congress concluded that the troops' ill-health was caused by them being given nerve gas pills and exposed to pesticides during the conflict.

However, the MoD's official position remains that Gulf War Syndrome is a useful "umbrella term" but comprises too many different symptoms to be characterised as a syndrome in medical terms.

Mr Rusling said more Gulf veterans were coming forward to seek compensation now as those who were young men in 1991 found themselves "hitting a wall".

"I've seen these young men absolutely mentally and physically shattered. They're now applying for war pensions," he said.

"It adds insult to injury and further distress to an ill and confused soldier who has done nothing more than his duty.

"They deserve proper recognition and acceptance of what they have done to us."

An MoD spokesman said: "Any UK veteran who suffers from ill-health as a result of their service is compensated accordingly.

"Often veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf conflict have submitted claims for more than 20 different conditions or symptoms at a time, which means it can take time to consider all the evidence and conclude a claim or an appeal.

"All cases are dealt with as quickly as possible."