Thursday, 10 February 2011
THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD HANG THEIR HEAD IN SHAME OVER THE NEGLECT OF FORMER SOLDIERS
The way that our armed forces are treated when they return to civilian life after tours of duty in Afghanistan and formerly from Iraq is disgraceful. Whether we agree whether the engagement in Afghanistan is necessary or not is not the issue and our military personnel cannot be blamed for doing what they agreed to do when they signed on. But, after putting their lives on the line every day and witnessing their friends dying, being maimed or losing limbs when they leave the services many are left to fend for themselves when they return home. Successive governments are quick to commit our troops to danger but once they return to civilian life their needs are widely ignored leaving public supported charities to pick up the pieces.
In a hard hitting BBC Panorama programme (9 Feb 2011) Colonel Tim Collins exposed the traumas returning soldiers were having to face. Although not all will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many will be affected by other war-related conditions that has led to family splits, violence and serious drinking problems. A study of around 10,000 Armed Forces personnel found that almost one in five (19.7 per cent) reported signs of a common mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety or insomnia that is leaving many lives shattered. It did not believe that multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan had an effect on rates of PTSD, which was estimated to have affected between 3 and 4 per cent of British troops over the course of the study. The Combat Stress charity said there has been a 66 per cent rise in demand for its services in the past five years, with discharged veterans taking 14 years on average before seeking help. Military veterans are, in the main, extremely proud individuals who are reluctant to ask for help. Support services have been reported to be seeing about 4,000 new veterans each year, but this could rise to 9,000 a year within a decade, the charity added. Veterans with psychiatric problems are unlikely to receive the treatment they need from the NHS since mental health provisions were axed and this could cause massive problems within the community in years to come that are not being addressed.
Soldiers have also been abused, attacked and refused entry to pubs and nightclubs and the levels of protests against homecoming troops from Muslim reactionaries in Barking and Luton have been well documented. Veterans are also finding difficulties finding work in a worsening job market while others have been forced to live rough on the streets when they have been unable to find affordable accommodation. A few have also ended up serving prison sentences. Had the appropriate level of State funded help been available most of these former soldiers could have been spared from the ruination of their lives. Instead, the role of helping these victims continues to fall on the charity sector such as Support Our Soldiers and the Royal British Legion. However, the Panorama programme revealed that the RBL (which has an income of £125m)could offer assistance to many more veterans if they knew who they were, but the Ministry of Defence has hidden behind the Data Protection Act and has failed to release information to identify those in need.
The former Army chief, Sir Richard Dannatt, has revealed that there are 2,000 armed services fund-raising charities with a joint income of £800m but with so many there is a lack of coordination and cooperation between these which leads to overlap and duplication. Dannatt has praised the public for their generosity in supporting its military but he didn't expect their generosity to last forever. The chief executive for Veterans Aid Chris Simpkins said "Veterans are for life, not just for Christmas. So the real issue is about who's going to be here, can everyone sustain themselves for the long haul?"
The Independent on 15 November 2009 carried the headline 'Homecoming fit for heroes? The plight of Britain's veterans' . What followed was a hard hitting story that serves as a poignant reminder that not enough is being done. The responsibility for these veterans is really the responsibility of central government and it really isn't doing enough.