Why Do We Not Care For Our Soldiers?

Afghanistan War

Afghanistan War

I was to say the least shocked when I read a report that more UK soldiers and veterans have died after returning home than are killed in Afghanistan. According to the BBC Panorama programme, last year a total of 50 serving and ex-soldiers committed suicide since returning from the front line where they are fighting the Taliban, whereas only 44 have died in Afghanistan, and 4 of those were not action related.

Of the 50 dead, 21 killed themselves after being repatriated back to the UK, and 29 veterans also committed suicide. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has been accused of giving insufficient care to soldiers who have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) while engaged against the Taliban. The MOD has remained coy and said only that the suicide rates among serving and ex-servicemen was lower than the civilian rate.

An Unnecessary Casualty

An Unnecessary Casualty

It is true that men in war do suffer severe mental hardship, especially when they are wounded or have a friend blown to pieces beside them by a road-side bomb, as was the case with L/Sgt Collins, a Welsh Guardsman. He was diagnosed with PTSD by the Army and given 10 months of intermittent treatment before being discharged by the doctors. He twice tried to kill himself, but eventually hung himself in a lonely spot in the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire.

With all of the extra knowledge the medical fraternity has gained about such problems over the past fifty years, one would imagine our soldiers get decent treatment, but it would seem that such people have been failed by the system.

WW1 - Going 'Over The Top'

WW1 – Going ‘Over The Top’

The stresses and strains of combat in today’s armed forces are somewhat different from that of the young men who went to war in 1914 and 1939, for today there are many more possibilities of the care for soldiers who have suffered mental anguish. In the 1914-18 war any soldier who suffered mental breakdown was ‘shot at dawn’ as a coward, and by the time we went into the Second World War things had improved somewhat, but nowhere near enough.

I do not wish to belittle the standards of today’s soldiers, but in these two previous wars the soldiers had to suffer far more than they do today. Back then there was no six-month rotation on the battle front, for regiments fought until they either died or were ‘almost dead on their feet’ from tiredness before being sent behind the lines for perhaps a couple of days or a week’s rest before being thrown into the fray once again. This went on for more than five long years, and the only real excuse for not being at the front-line was to be severely wounded, in which case you would be repatriated and discharged.

Normandy on D-Day

Normandy on D-Day

The front-line of today bears little comparison to going ‘over the top’ into a hail of lead from hundreds of machine guns and artillery during the First World War, when every soldier knew he had less than a 10% chance of surviving. The same can be said for storming the beaches during the Normandy Landings for example. Many will say that men were made of sterner stuff back then, even though many of our soldiers who came back suffered mental anguish just like today, but the main point is, they were left to deal with it themselves for there was no such thing as PTSD treatment like we have today, and even less understanding of the condition.

Granted, in those days you usually knew in which direction your enemy lay, but today we have hidden enemies with the detonator for a road-side bomb in the hand which does make a difference.

Which ever way you look at it, the MOD should be more able to take care of our serving soldiers and veterans, especially when you consider all the advances that have taken place since the 1940’s in understanding the mental stress of being in battle. When all is said and done, they are all hero’s!

Roy.

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