Former senior Army officer: 'MoD must help with care of veterans'

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The Independent Online

A soldier needs someone who can empathise with what he's been through. It isn't just stress: you need someone who understands what it is like to be next to someone who is killed in action. While you are in the Army, it feels like family. People understand. They've seen what you've seen. While serving in "the family", you patch things up, mentally. But once you are out, that has gone. There needs to be a much easier way for those who are out to reach out and tell someone they have a problem. There is no proper system. The main symptoms, otherwise, are drinking too much and wife-beating.

Now it takes most men months to go to the doctor and admit they have a lump on their testicle, or whatever. So imagine how difficult it is for a man to admit he has a major emotional problem. They are too proud to ask, so the combat stress just builds.

I see post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as mainly a veterans issue, and there is anecdotal evidence that a lot of the people who are asking for help nowadays were serving in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. The Government just hasn't resourced the aftercare and the consequences of war. The MoD has not shown a lot of interest in remedying the situation, so it becomes an NHS problem, or at least that is the MoD's line. It needs to be a lifetime commitment. We are a long way behind the Americans in terms of care for veterans, where they've had major problems, not least with suicides. For the British, when casualty figures are high and you have a sense that you're not winning, of course the stress will increase.

There are only a few centres set up by Combat Stress, so the charity can't meet the need. At best, a military doctor will refer a soldier to a civilian hospital and maintain a liaison, but you have to be lucky for that to happen.

You really need military people in the NHS, but the NHS won't pay, the MoD is broke, so you need some proper interdepartmental leadership, which just isn't there. To use the cliché, it really is a time bomb.

The author had experience of Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in the Army