Britain Sitting on a 'Timebomb' of Veterans' Mental Health Problems; More Falklands Soldiers Committed Suicide Than Were Killed in Action

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Byline: James Tapsfield ; Sam Marsden

FAILINGS in the care given to British troops who suffer from mental illness are a "national scandal", the Conservatives said yesterday.

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox warned that the UK was sitting on a "timebomb" of future post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

The Tories highlighted the dangers at a summit in Westminster after one of the bloodiest periods for British forces for decades.

The bodies of eight soldiers killed in Afghanistan within a 24-hour period - three of them teenagers - were returned to the UK on Tuesday.

Dr Fox said the heartfelt reaction to these losses showed the public was much more aware of the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces than at any time he could remember.

"We will have a generation of disabled young servicemen," he said. "But what worries me is while we focus on what we can see, we have too little focus on what we cannot see."

Research suggests that veterans aged 18 to 23 are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than civilians are.

More veterans of the UK's Falklands campaign and first Gulf War are believed to have killed themselves after quitting the forces than died in action.

About 255 were killed during the Falklands conflict, but an estimated 264 troops who survived have since committed suicide.

The Gulf War claimed the lives of 24 British soldiers, but a Government study last year suggested that 169 veterans had died of "intentional self harm" or in circumstances that led to open verdicts at inquests.

Dr Fox said these statistics suggested there was a mental health "crisis" waiting to happen among current troops.

"If you extrapolate those figures into what has happened in the Balkans and Iraq and Afghanistan, we are sitting on a timebomb," he said.

"I worry hugely in particular that the Territorial Army has a problem that is even worse than the generic problem."

Former SAS soldier Andy McNab told the summit how he was blown up three times as a young infantryman and had killed another human being by the time he was 19.

When he was 20 one of his friends was blown up next to him and he remained covered in his comrade's blood and flesh for several hours. …