Leading article: Treat our armed forces fairly

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The Independent Online

Few of us really understand the sacrifices made in foreign lands by our troops these past years. Most of us will never know the fury of a Basra fire fight or witness friends killed by an improvised explosive device on the roadside. What we do know, however, is that Britain's troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have been under-resourced in the field and ignored on their return home.

The Government's treatment of those people disabled by their service, in particular, has been shaming. So meagre has been their compensation that the Ministry of Defence even paid more to a civilian typist who strained a wrist in the course of work. The announcement, therefore, that the maximum compensation for injured personnel will double from £285,000 to £570,000 and will be paid retrospectively is entirely welcome.

These moves are long overdue, but more still needs to be done if the Government wishes to fulfil the Military Covenant, which states that, "At the very least, British soldiers should always expect the nation and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals."

So far the Ministry of Defence has refused to heed calls by the Royal British Legion to survey the mental health of troops on their return from combat. Meanwhile, they have a troop accommodation strategy which happily accepts that 35,000 bedrooms will be "sub-standard". This is unacceptable and, when considered together with shortages in the field, reflects poorly on the way we care for our armed forces.

In the last five years coroners have noted the lack of bomb detection devices on military vehicles, a lack of lubricating oil for guns, and "unforgivable and inexcusable" delays in providing body armour to troops. All these failures have directly led to the death of UK services personnel.

Unsurprisingly, in the light of all this, the British military now has a retention problem. The combined forces lack around 6,000 men and it is in infantry that this shortage is most acutely felt. To rectify this we must prove to our troops that they are "valued and respected as individuals". And to do that, the Government must offer them more than just increased compensation.