'Gulf War Syndrome' Veterans Abandoned By Blair

GULF WAR veterans have given up hope of receiving any kind of recognition for serving their country, despite suffering severe mental and physical disabilities, writes  Phil Simms  

Now, 15 years on from the first allied invasion of Iraq, senior army officers and armed forces charities have slammed the Government for not doing enough to ease the suffering of  more than  6,000 British ex-service men and women.

Shaun Rusling, of the National Gulf Veterans Families Association (NGVFA), said:  "The treatment of those soldiers sent to Iraq to serve and ultimately to protect the people of this country is appalling. " More government aid is needed to be given to ease the suffering of those soldiers and their families who have been injured as a result of going to war," he added.

In November last year the Ministry of Defence (MoD) refused to acknowledge a landmark court ruling, which ordered the government to recognise the condition known as Gulf War Syndrome. This forfeited the right of war veterans to claim compensation, on medical grounds, to supplement their meager state pension. Gulf War Syndrome cites a wide range of symptoms which thousands of soldiers contracted upon returning to the UK.

The most common symptoms include severe fatigue, nausea, fevers, muscle and joint complaints, memory loss, mood swings including severe aggression, insomnia, diarrhea, swollen glands and headaches. Paul Connolly, 43, was sent to the Gulf in 1991 to work as an engineer, specifically to maintain the filtration and cooling systems to allow the army to operate in the desert.  

When he returned  home he discovered that he had contracted a rare kidney condition, affecting just one in 500,000 adults, which has caused significant muscle loss and chronic fatigue. Since then his partner has left him, he has lost his home as well as   his job and is unable to qualify for a war pension - he has to live on  £70 a week.

 "I hate the disloyalty of the last 20 years," Mr Connolly said,  "which covers most of my conscious existence. I feel proud of what I have done, to serve one's country when they come calling but I cannot escape the feeling of being abandoned - betrayed by the very people I was there to serve, to protect.

He addes:  "Within three months of returning home I had to give up the job I enjoyed for eight years. I had always done intense manual work but now I was too tired to do anything. I could not work, could not even go to the shops I just could not carry out what anyone would deem a  'normal' life.

Connolly's condition requires a  strenuous course of treatment that involves being hooked up to a dialysis machine three times a week just to keep him  illness free and active within the local community. The MoD, despite deciding not to appeal the decision of the pensions appeal tribunal to the House of Lords, withdrew from ongoing negotiations on the grounds that money was being paid to ex-servicemen with disabilities, and that it did not need to pay extra  cash   for those who claimed they were suffering from Gulf War syndrome.

Mr Rusling insisted:  "They (the MoD) cannot choose when and when not to enforce the law, particularly if it's because they think it is not a very good one. They have no legal authority to tamper with the terms on which the tribunal allows an appeal, by refusing this right and ignoring the decision, they are making a mockery of our entire legal system."

The 1991 war signaled the start of a terminal decline in the standard of treatment given to British service men and women. At the time of the first Gulf conflict there were as many as eight military hospitals around the country that catered specifically for those men and women who have been injured during military action. Now, as war still rages on in Iraq and Afghanistan, only one hospital survives, Haslar in Hampshire, and, at present, faces being sold off.

In many cases healthcare for our armed forces ends at discharge, effectively abandoned and forced to fend for yourself and join waiting lists in an overworked and under financed NHS.

Anthony Bradshaw, 22, is plagued by nightmares, feelings of wanting to vomit and recurrent panic attacks as a result of his experience of Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and is one of many former soldiers who feel they have been abandoned by the establishment.  "I was medically evacuated after I was bitten by a poisonous insect, which made my arm swell up. I was taken first to a field hospital and then to Cyprus. When I returned to England I began to have psychological problems.  "

he added: "An army doctor diagnosed that I may be suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but the only time I ever saw a psychiatrist he seemed to be just concerned with whether I wanted to leave the army. I did not receive any counseling then and I have not received any since, a lot more could have been done for me and others of a similar disposition."  

So far the government has resisted calls for a dedicated military hospital, despite Britain's active role in foreign policy little has been done to secure the welfare of British troops on their return. The   Ministry of   Defence  have insisted that those who have been diagnosed with mental health problems on duty were recieving the best possible attention.

Colonel Tim Collins, who served with the SAS during the first Gulf war, who now talks about his experiences, claims that if the public perception about Iraq changes then the government would be put under pressure to act. He said:  "The public perception is that these men and women are just volunteers and if you get wounded in action then that's just bad luck, because the Gulf wars have been seen as unpopular the Government avoid the issue because it is not a vote winner. We should start caring about our armed forces and demanding better standards" .