Published on Thursday, February 16, 2006 by the Independent / UK
Iraq: the Forgotten Victims
Military under fire for 'abandoning' more than 1,000 veterans with mental problems
by Kim Sengupta and Terri Judd
Dramatic figures have been released revealing that at least 1,333 servicemen and women - almost 1.5 per cent of those who served in the Iraq war - have returned from the Middle East with serious psychiatric problems.
The official statistics, which have been passed to The Independent, identify those who were diagnosed with mental health problems while on duty. Many Iraq veterans are now receiving little or no treatment for a variety of mental health problems.
Questions have also been raised about the level of care being given to regular soldiers, reservists and members of the TA, some of whose symptoms emerged after ending active service. Many are not included in the figure of 1,333. Many claim they have been abandoned by the military establishment.
The government figures, compiled between January 2003 and September 2005, emerged in an answer by Don Touhig, minister for veterans' affairs, in response to a question by Mark Harper MP.
Out of the 1,333 diagnosed as suffering from mental health problems, 182 have been found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while 601 are judged to have adjustment disorder or, in laymen's terms, " combat stress".
A further 237 are classified as suffering from depression and 167 suffer other forms of mental illness or substance misuse.
The Independent has found many soldiers suffering from mental disorders after returning from Iraq are not being given the care they feel they need.
Anthony Bradshaw is one of those who came home still haunted by his experience of Iraq. The 22-year-old former private in the Pioneer Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, suffers from recurrent panic attacks and nightmares.
But despite his records containing a note stating he may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he was seen only once by a psychiatrist before being discharged. He said: "We have been abandoned by the powers that be."
Charles Plumridge of the Gulf War Veterans and Families' Association said: " This situation is appalling. The MoD should not be allowed to get away with it. I would not be at all surprised if the figures increase greatly."
After leaving the Army, Mr Bradshaw enrolled at an agriculture college in his home city, Hull. But yesterday, he had to leave his class and go home after suffering another panic attack. "I had never, ever had any such problems in the past, I had a healthy and stable life," he said.
"But I have forgotten what it is like to have a normal life now. There are physical symptoms, but what has happened to me mentally is much worse. I feel frightened if I go out on my own, I wake up in the night feeling frightened. I would not wish this experience on anyone."
As a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, L/Cpl David McGough treated civilians, women and children, as well as the British and US military at the height of the conflict.
He is now on medication prescribed by his GP for anxiety and stress. But the Army has refused to accept that he suffers from mental problems.
"I was a serviceman for four-and-a-half years and intended to be in for the full 20," said L/Cpl McGough, 24, who lives in Preston. "I am originally from Northern Ireland and I have dealt with serious medical cases both in the Army and helping civilian powers in emergencies. But there is no acknowledgement from the MoD that Iraq was the place where a lot of people had very serious and awful experiences.
"My problems started two weeks after I returned to the UK and I am not seen to be suffering officially from mental problems."
Stress caused by the Iraq conflict has also been used in legal defence. The former SAS trooper Andrew Wragg, who killed his 10-year-old terminally ill son, was cleared of murder last month and convicted instead of manslaughter.
One of the military's most senior psychiatrists, Group Captain Frank McManus, has acknowledged reservists in particular are suffering from lack of psychiatric care from the MoD.
He said: "They have a particularly rough deal. Once they are demobilised and return to civilian life they are not entitled to health care. They are more vulnerable because in their normal working day and life they have no contact with the military, they are surrounded by people who cannot begin to understand what they went through in Iraq."
He added: "The MoD at the highest level is aware of the problem with reservists and solutions are being sought."
The MoD said last night that the problems faced by reservists were not being neglected but no solution had been found. However, it said that the National Health Service was being made aware of the possible problems those returning to civilian life may face.
The ministry also insisted that those who had been diagnosed with mental health problems on duty were receiving the best possible attention.
Mr Harper said: "It is crucial that servicemen and women receive all necessary support. Our troops are performing a vital role in helping to rebuild the country. But this does place them in danger - and the Ministry of Defence is failing in its duty of care if it does not make the necessary arrangements."
Private Anthony Bradshaw: 'I think a lot more could have been done for us'
Anthony Bradshaw saw combat in the Iraq conflict. He now has difficulties at times even leaving the house by himself.
"It is difficult to describe how bad panic attacks can be unless one experiences them himself. I was a soldier, but now I sometimes feel frightened just going shopping," he said.
Mr Bradshaw, 22, who was a private in the Pioneer Regiment, was stationed in a town south of Basra where he and his comrades were tasked to build camps.
"But the camps had already been built and instead we came under pretty regular attacks," he said. "As a soldier this is something you learn to expect and I did not know at the time what effect this was having on me."
Mr Bradshaw, from Hull, was medically evacuated after being bitten by a poisonous insect which led to his arm swelling. "I was taken first to a field hospital and then to Cyprus. When I returned to England I began to have psychological problems.
"An army doctor who saw me wrote on my records 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 counselling then and I have not received any since.
"After leaving the Army I joined a college to do a fishery management course. But frankly it is very hard. I get panic attacks, feelings of wanting to vomit, and have to leave to come home.
"I have got mates who have not suffered any mental problems. But there are others who have and I think a lot more could have been done for them."
Private Peter Mahoney: 'I have plans for the future'
Pte Peter Mahoney served in Iraq from March to July 2003. From the Gulf he wrote to his wife, Donna: "We have plans when we get old and dotty together, so put out of your mind any thoughts of me dying."
In August 2004, he dressed in his uniform, got in his car in the garage, attached a hosepipe to the exhaust and started the engine. Beside him were pictures of his family and a MoD leaflet on psychological trauma, ripped to pieces.
Pte Mahoney's death at the age of 45 will never be recorded on army mental health figures as post-traumatic stress disorder due to service in Iraq. He refused his wife's pleas to seek help.
But she is adamant there is no other way to explain his death, and says other reservists and TA members need recognition.
"When they fight alongside regular soldiers they are treated like regular soldiers but when they are back at home in civvy street, they are less of a priority".
"I know of 15 or 16 other suicides. It is not highlighted."
L/Cpl David McGough: 'The children haunt me'
It was seeing the terrible injuries suffered by children which was the most shattering experience for David McGough in Iraq. Their pain and tears, the distress of the families, are memories which still haunt him after returning home. L/Cpl McGough, 24, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, served in Iraq for three months after the invasion during some of the fiercest fighting. He treated Iraqi civilians as well as US and British military.
"Some of the children suffered from burns, others had shrapnel and bullet wounds. It was very distressing," he said. "When I was there I just carried on with what I was doing. We were working 14, 16 hours a day. It was two weeks after we got back that I began to feel really bad. I started having blackouts and vomiting. The RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) was actually quite sympathetic, and tried to help me the best he could. But the Army does not accept that I am suffering from mental problems. I am on Prozac, but that is from my GP."
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited