Thousands of British soldiers have gone absent without leave since 2003 because the Army is unwilling to accept the gravity of mental problems caused by their tours in Iraq.
The Ministry of Defence estimates there have been 10,000 Awol incidents since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and 1,100 servicemen are currently "on the run" from the Army.
One soldier tells the BBC's Panorama programme tonight that he went absent without leave - a crime punishable by life imprisonment - after being refused compassionate leave, despite suffering from flashbacks and lack of sleep after a tour in which he saw a comrade killed. Steve (not his real name) said he was refused compassionate leave on grounds that only those serviceman who have suffered a bereavement are granted it.
He went Awol after the Army lost his application for early discharge, he says. His anticipated release, within 12 months, was extended by at least six months.
"Lads come back [from Iraq] traumatised with no idea how to deal with it, he told Panorama. "Asking for help with mental health issues in the Army is something you don't do. It's looked down upon. When I came back from Iraq, my behaviour was different. I found it difficult to relate to people. I became withdrawn. On leave, I just sat in my room all day drinking."
The programme suggests many soldiers leave because army life does not match the image presented by recruiters desperate to find new service personnel.
One former senior officer told Panorama the reason most soldiers went Awol was "they were young, inexperienced, sometimes immature and they didn't know how to face up to their problems. …