Wounded in action and 'tossed aside' on return to Civvy Street

A cavalryman badly injured in Iraq says the MoD should do much more for the treatment and rehabilitation of servicemen
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Indy Politics

Daniel Twiddy has sympathy for the plight of injured soldiers returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who he believes are then tossed aside by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as "numbers" when they are no longer useful.

Daniel clearly remembers the moment he was blown off his Challenger 2 tank in a "friendly fire" incident during the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

As news emerged last week that British soldiers are risking their lives for less than the minimum wage of £3.30 an hour, the value the MoD places on its injured servicemen brought back bitter memories for Daniel, who was badly injured two days into the invasion.

"I had just finished a stint of sentry duty and was sleeping on the top of the tank because it was hot. It was 1am," he says.

A high-explosive round landed just behind the tank, blowing him off the vehicle and setting fire to it. "I was on fire, and I had shrapnel wounds all over," he remembers. "I didn't have a clue what was going on and I was screaming. I couldn't see or hear, all I could feel was this incredible heat."

About 15 seconds later, a second explosive made a direct hit on the tank, killing his commander and the driver instantly. "The second shot set me on fire again, and I took a large piece of shrapnel through my face and lost a lot of teeth," he says. "I remember crawling on my hands and knees, screaming, with blood running down my face."

Later, it became clear that the rounds had been fired by another British tank, which had mistaken Daniel's Challenger 2 for the enemy.

Daniel is scathing about how the MoD treats its discharged soldiers. "Once you are discharged the MoD doesn't want anything to do with you and the attitude is: let's just get another number in to replace this one. They should care, they blew me up but they don't want anything to do with me."

In February 2005, Daniel was medically discharged from the Army on the basis of his partial deafness. He is furious that, following an official inquest, nobody was blamed for the friendly fire incident that killed two colleagues and very nearly killed him.

"After six years of being a good soldier, there was no 'thank-you' letter, no 'good luck for the future', just silence. All I ever wanted to do was be in the Army and I could have gone all the way, but now that has been taken away from me."

The MoD has only recently agreed a plan with charities, such as the Royal British Legion, in which they will be able to send a letter to every member of the armed services who might need help, circumventing data protection rules.

The suspicion among charities is that the MoD was concerned that discharged personnel would have access to information about the compensation and medical care due to them. Soldiers who are injured in the fighting cannot even expect dedicated medical facilities on their return to the UK.

All but one of Britain's military hospitals have been closed down. The lack of dedicated facilities has led to about 5,000 military personnel being unable to return to frontline duty because they are on NHS waiting lists for treatment.

Daniel, who suffered 80 per cent burns, says the medical care he received was excellent, but he believes the closure of the military hospitals is a disgrace because being with other injured personnel helps soldiers to recover more quickly. "You can all talk about what happened to you and have a laugh about it. Civilians don't understand," he says.

Out of hospital, Daniel had 20 operations, many of them skin grafts, but he is angry that the MoD refused to pay for part of his care. "I had to get a specialist to apply creams to my skin grafts every day for three months, and it cost me £60 a week out of my own pocket," he says. "I was disgusted that the MoD refused to pay the money back."

Mark Lancaster MP, who recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan with the Territorial Army, has called for a "fundamental review" of medical care for serving personnel. "We have a major problem with delivering medical services to the armed forces and we should not have closed our military hospitals," he said.

Despite setting up a successful business as a plasterer, Daniel has found adapting to civilian life hard. "Fending for yourself is difficult," he says. "The lack of routine is also hard, but I get round that by being very organised and being a perfectionist. I still keep a piece of the Army inside me."