Blair is called to account over abandoned troops

Those who risk their lives in support of Bliar's deranged foreign policy, and who suffer physical and metal trauma, are being treated with contempt.

Blair is called to account over abandoned troops

By Terri Judd, Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson
Published: 11 March 2007

British soldiers returning from war are suffering unprecedented levels of mental health problems amid claims that the long-standing "military covenant" guaranteeing them proper care is in tatters.

More than 21,000 full-time servicemen and women who have served in Iraq, as well as army reservists, have developed anxiety and depression, an Independent on Sunday investigation can reveal today.

Official figures suggest two dozen military personnel have killed themselves since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 ­ a figure which includes 17 confirmed suicides and six where inquests are pending. Combat Stress, the charity for war veterans suffering from mental problems, has warned that it is seeing an annual rise of 26 per cent in its caseload; more than 1,000 former soldiers are homeless.

The figures prompted military experts, politicians and mental health charities to claim that Tony Blair is in breach of his duty of care for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Politicians, leading figures in the arts and entertainment, and relatives of dead soldiers have put their names to a letter published in today's Independent on Sunday. Signatories include the playwright Harold Pinter, campaigner Bianca Jagger, Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and MPs Peter Kilfoyle and Ben Wallace.

Their letter calls on the Prime Minister to give the young men and women who risk their lives for this country the just and fair treatment that they deserve. Readers are also invited to sign the letter, which will be handed to Mr Blair on 20 March, the fourth anniversary of the Iraq invasion.

"Servicemen and women are receiving insufficient treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder," it says. "Many are desperately ill, out of work, homeless and even suicidal. We believe that the military covenant is broken, and that you have neglected the young men and women who carry out your orders."

Senior military figures weighed in last night, accusing the Government of breaching the military covenant, which states that in return for fighting wars on behalf of the nation, the Government must provide all care necessary.

The extent of the hidden costs of war is exposed in the same week that five British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the highest toll since 2003; 6,600 British troops have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 600 flown back to Britain for treatment. But Combat Stress and the British Legion say even these figures grossly underestimate the scale of psychological injuries among troops.They accuse the Ministry of Defence of abandoning vulnerable soldiers, some of whom experience crippling nightmares and flashbacks, by closing dedicated military hospitals and putting troops in civilian wards.

Air Marshal Sir John Walker said he believed the military covenant is at " breaking point". The former head of Defence Intelligence said: "Has the covenant been broken? Well, in my opinion it has certainly been stretched to breaking point. I am afraid sending our forces into an illegal war is a severe breach of trust."

At the end of the month, Britain will become the only country in Europe without a dedicated military hospital when it closes Haslar Hospital at Gosport, Hampshire. Troops will be treated at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.

But letters published this weekend in The Observer reveal that soldiers are receiving inadequate treatment. In one case, Jamie Cooper, the youngest British soldier wounded in Iraq, spent a night lying in his own faeces after staff allegedly allowed his colostomy bag to overflow. Other servicemen complain of being left without pain relief and of unbearable noise on the ward. The revelations follow the recent scandal over conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, which has prompted a review by President George Bush.

Many battle-scarred troops also face waiting up to 18 months for treatment on the NHS.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are united in their condemnation of the Government's failure to give traumatised troops the care they deserve. Dr Liam Fox, the Tory Defence spokesman, said there was no doubt that the military covenant had been broken. "British forces are severely overstretched."

Admiral Sir Alan West, the former First Sea Lord and the last head of the Royal Navy, said extra support is needed if Britain is to carry on with the same levels of troop deployment.

Roger Bacon, the father of Major Matthew Bacon, who died in a roadside bomb attack, said that Tony Blair had got Britain into an "appalling mess" .

An MoD spokesman said that the defence budget had increased and that junior soldiers had received a substantial pay rise.
Just to make my anger clear, I would not lift the smallest finger of my left hand even the slightest millimetre (or fraction of an inch) to advance Bliar's deluded foreign policy. Those who risk their lives are far better persons than I, and the treatment of the wounded, the traumatised, bereaved relatives and those who are fortunate enough only to suffer from overstretch and family seperation simply beggars belief.
Memory fails me but did not the Wicked Witch rush to be by Euans side when he 'poorly' in the States. You can do this when your one of the Nue Labour aristocracy, but for poor TOM lieing broken and bleeding do we see Blurs state going the extra inch for poor TOM ?

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