Forgotten Sons

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), March 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Forgotten Sons


Byline: By Matt Withers Wales on Sunday

Welsh soldiers returning from Iraq are being forced to turn to charity for help with mental health problems amid claims the Government has turned its back on them.

Those suffering after witnessing the horrors of war while serving their country - seeing friends blown apart and suffering flashbacks and nightmares years later - were once treated in military hospitals.

But later this month Britain will lose its final military hospital, leaving returning heroes to queue up for NHS services like anybody else or turn to charity for help.

On the fourth anniversary of war breaking out in Iraq, Wales on Sunday has discovered 14 Welsh servicemen and women are receiving treatment for anxiety and depression from one charity alone. Most have post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes people to relive disturbing memories over and over again. The symptoms are often the same - nightmares, waking up sweating and suffering uncontrollable flashbacks. One Welsh soldier hanged himself on a swing in a children's playground rather than return to the horrors of Iraq.

Combat Stress, which cares for war veterans suffering from mental health problems, has seen an annual rise of 26 per cent in its caseload. In total, more than 21,000 UK soldiers who have served in Iraq, including army reservists, have developed problems, according to official figures.

In Wales, Combat Stress is currently treating 202 ex-servicemen and women from conflicts ranging from World War II to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Families, politicians and mental health charities claim the Government is in breach of its duty of care for those who have served in the bloody war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is almost four years to the day since the invasion of Iraq by British and US troops. Nine Welsh soldiers have been killed in that time.

Many more have been injured. But Combat Stress and the British Legion say these figures massively underestimate the scale of psychological injuries, accusing the Ministry of Defence of abandoning vulnerable soldiers by closing military hospitals and putting troops in NHS wards.

Ray Salmonds of Combat Stress, said: 'As far as ex-servicemen are concerned, if you leave the employment of the MoD then you have to seek medical care through the NHS and the waiting time, which is 12 months to see a psychiatrist, is unacceptable.

'Other Western nations don't do this. If you are a veteran you get prioritisation.

'There has been a considerable upsurge in the demand for our services, and although we receive some money from Government, we have to find a significant part of the money to fund services from charitable sources.

'Our limited resources are being stretched and stretched. If the current rate of demand continues - and I don't think over the short to medium term it will fall - we need to see increased funding both from Government and charity.'

Specialists from King's College, London, estimate that up to one in four soldiers suffers from mental problems after returning from war zones.

Private Gary Boswell, 20, from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, was found hanged from swings in a children's playground in July 2003. He had recently returned from Iraq and had suffered from depression at the thought of having to return for a second tour of duty.

His parents have called for a full counselling service to be available to those returning from the battlefield.

His father, John Boswell, said: 'All the young soldiers in the Army should have more counselling and preparation and should be able to talk more freely about it. I think they are not able to speak about things. There are probably a lot of young men out there now who are feeling like Gary did.'

At the end of the month, Britain will become the only country in Europe without a dedicated military hospital when Haslar Hospital in Hampshire becomes a normal hospital. …

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