'If the Army had cared, my daughter would still be alive'

Traumatised and bullied, Chanice Ward was discharged after trying to kill herself. Terri Judd tells her tragic story
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The Independent Online

Lance-Corporal Chanice Ward's coffin was draped with a Union Flag. Three weeks ago, the 29-year-old sat alone at home and penned a four-page letter in her usual tidy handwriting before swallowing a fatal dose of pills. After years of nightmares caused by the horrors she saw on duty in Bosnia, and the humiliation of being unceremoniously dumped from the Army when depression took hold, the former Royal Army Medical Corps soldier took her own life.

Miss Ward was a teenager when she first witnessed the atrocities of the Balkans conflict: the torture victims, the bomb-blast casualties and the injured children. A bright, self-possessed and well-spoken young woman, her exemplary service had included a commendation for saving a soldier who suffered spinal injuries during an exercise, and a recommendation to be considered for an officer's commission.

But two back-to-back tours of duty, first in Kosovo and then in Bosnia, took their toll. Overworked, bullied and shocked by the cruelty she witnessed, she became depressed and made two attempts on her life.

After the first, she was sent back to work. After the second, she spent months in psychiatric care before being told she had been discharged – not on medical grounds but because her "services were no longer required". To a woman who had dreamed of joining the Army from the age of 16, it was no better than a dishonourable discharge: the ultimate humiliation from which she would never recover.

Yesterday, Miss Ward's father Ivor, 57, a former sergeant with the Royal Engineers, said: "I was in the Army for 22 years but I hate the Army now because of the way it treated my daughter. If she had got the help she needed, she would be alive today. She probably would have stayed in the Army, she loved it that much."

Miss Ward's sister Emma, 26, added: "I don't think she could ever get her head around how she was discharged. She gave 110 per cent to the Army and they washed their hands of her and made her out to be a failure."

Before her death, Miss Ward launched a claim for a war pension on the grounds that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She hoped to have her discharge retrospectively changed to a medical one – recognising the mental wounds she developed during her service. Her father intends to continue pursuing that claim, convinced it is the only way of finally restoring his daughter's dignity.

Miss Ward's death comes at a time when a mounting number of current and former service personnel have backed The Independent's campaign for better mental health treatment for veterans.

On the back of the order of service at Miss Ward's funeral last Wednesday was a picture of her as an 18-year-old, resplendent in her No.2 dress uniform, sitting bolt upright, a gloved hand holding her rifle. The day she passed out as a Private in the RAMC was her proudest moment, her father explained.

An athletic, adventurous youngster and a perfectionist in everything she did, the Army appeared to suit Miss Ward perfectly. But a blissfully happy time in Germany was followed swiftly by tours in Kosovo and Bosnia. "She talked about picking up body pieces but she didn't say much more," Mr Ward said. Miss Ward's former boyfriend, Jack Baldwin, added: "What she hated was seeing the torture victims. The whole scenario was upsetting. I don't think she should have been in that environment, being so young and inexperienced. It traumatised her and she didn't want to put that on other people. She only gave us the tip of the iceberg."

Her troubles were compounded, her family said, by bullying and a cervical cancer scare. In February 2001, she made her first suicide attempt. "She was told to take some time off and get on with life," said her sister, adding that Chanice was still fragile when she was sent on exercise to Canada in 2002.

She repeatedly called home in tears, saying she was being bullied by a sergeant but did not want to complain because it would "look weak and make things worse". On 9 October 2002, she was found in her sleeping bag, having taken another overdose and slashed her wrists. The sergeant denied bullying, insisting he was "firm but fair".

L/Cpl Ward was sent home to the Duke of Kent's Psychiatric Hospital North Yorkshire, where she was told she was to be discharged from the hospital and the Army. Her sister recalled: "She phoned me. She sat in the car sobbing because she did not know what to do, she didn't know where to go. That was it, that was the end of her Army life."

After struggling for years, Miss Ward eventually secured a job as a PA at Norwich Union, where colleagues who packed her funeral said she was fun and popular. But depression and nightmares continued to plague her. On 2 April, she had dinner at a friend's house and left, in an apparently good mood, shortly after 9pm. The next day she was found dead on the floor.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the defence ministry said: "We are very saddened to hear about the death of Chanice Ward and would like to extend our sympathies. We have made great progress both in the treatment of mental health problems and in reducing the stigma associated with seeking help. Treatment for mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress, is also available for veterans through six community-based mental health pilot schemes the MoD has created."