Times: Saving the soldiers we neglect

Sorry if it's posted elsewhere but I believe this deserves a thread of it's own.

Saving the soldiers we neglect

A new charity is going to the aid of soldiers injured, many grievously, in wars such as Iraq and Aghanistan who are slipping through the care net when they return to Britain, reports Ed CaesarEd Caesar
PRIVATE Matthew Woollard, who celebrated his 19th birthday last week, deserves to feel like a hero. Five months ago he was on duty with the Royal Anglian Regiment in Afghanistan when he stepped on a landmine, losing his foot and much of his lower right leg and suffering shrapnel wounds to the rest of his body.

Since then Woollard has endured a below-knee amputation, spent nine weeks in Selly Oak hospital, Birmingham, and a further three months at Headley Court in Surrey, the services’ specialist rehabilitation unit. Shrapnel is still coming out of his body.

Headley Court is the first target of a new charity, Help for Heroes, to be launched tomorrow with the backing of The Sunday Times. The charity has been set up to raise extra funds for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to “directly support the wounded from the current conflicts” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Help for Heroes’ first goal is to raise between £5m and £8m for a new gym and swimming pool at Headley Court. Its patrons will be Jeremy Clarkson, the Sunday Times columnist, and his wife Francie. “I was pretty weak after I came out of Selly Oak,” said Woollard last week after a weights session in the existing gym at Headley Court. “I’d dropped to 8½ stone. Now I’m feeling much better. I work out maybe three or four hours a day.

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“I’ve put on loads of weight [he is now 12½ stone] and I’ve been able to see welfare officers and all of that while I’ve been here. It’s a good place.”

Woollard is not the only soldier to think Headley Court is a good place. The rehabilitation centre, which deals with the injured from all three services, has an excellent reputation in the armed forces.

The property is housed in a Jacobean mansion in the Surrey countryside, once owned by a governor of the Bank of England. The facilities at Headley Court, according to Wing Commander Steve Beaumont, its commanding officer, help patients to be “rehabilitated in a way that encourages team spirit and a military way of thinking”.

It has gyms, a hydrotherapy pool, outdoor pitches where the patients can play sports and wards divided into “ambulant” and “high-dependency” patients. It has 66 beds and sees 4,000 outpatients a year.

There is a world-class prosthetics department, where ex-aircraft engineers adapt and modify artificial limbs for ampu-tees. The most advanced computerised arms and legs - which cost £10,000 each - can be moved wirelessly by a Bluetooth controller in the patient’s pocket.

Satisfied as most of the patients are, the facilities are not perfect. There is, for instance, no swimming pool - the patients take a half-hour bus ride to a public pool in Leatherhead - which means those who cannot do load-bearing movements have limited access to cardio-vascular exercise.

“Good old army,” said Bryn Parry, founder of Help for Heroes, to which readers are invited to donate using the internet link or coupon below. “They always say, ‘We’ll make do’. I say, making do isn’t good enough. Obviously the MoD can’t blow its budget on this - it has other more urgent priorities. Where we come in is that we can help to raise the funds so our soldiers get really excellent facilities.”

The charity is the brainchild of Parry, 51, a cartoonist and former member of the Royal Green Jackets, and Sarah-Jane Shirreff, wife of General Sir Richard Shirreff, former commander of British forces in Basra.

Through its website it will also allow the public to “help a hero” in any way they see fit - perhaps by offering tickets to football matches or funding a meal out. Already this aspect of the appeal has been kickstarted by retailers - Dixons has donated 1,000 MP3 players and PC World has provided a number of combined television-computers.

The Clarksons became involved in the cause of Britain’s war wounded last year when they met Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson at Selly Oak hospital - where a military-managed ward, albeit with beds for only 14 patients, gives primary care to injured service personnel returning from combat zones. When a landmine exploded under Parkinson’s Land Rover in Helmand province, Afghanistan, he lost both legs, injured his spine, pelvis, skull and spleen, and suffered brain damage.

Parkinson’s case highlighted the poor treatment often accorded to veterans by the authorities. He was awarded just £152,150 from the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme - a sum intended to cover medical costs for the rest of his life.

A review of compensation, partly prompted by outrage at Parkinson’s treatment, is under way, although the MoD would not confirm last week whether its changes would be retrospective to include Parkinson.

According to official figures, 805 service personnel had been wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq by the end of August, of whom 282 were categorised as seriously or very seriously injured.

“My impression was that the guys were getting good initial care,” said Francie Clarkson of the couple’s first visit to Selly Oak hospital. “But it was when they needed care beyond that where we thought they weren’t top of anyone’s list of priorities.

“If, for instance, someone needed more treatment from the NHS, they didn’t go top of the list - they just waited in line with everyone else. Also, the families weren’t looked after. Ben Parkinson’s mother, Diane, who was at his bedside every day, had to stay in a B&B. There were no facilities for the families to be put up. How could that be?”

Jeremy Clarkson wrote about what he found at Selly Oak in a column last year in which he called on Tony Blair to find the money for military-only wards and more accommodation for families. Clarkson found himself in tune with a large section of the British media and the Royal British Legion’s high-profile “Hon-our the Covenant” campaign.

The legion has made significant progress by reminding the government and the country of the military covenant, the understanding by which soldiers, in return for risking their lives, are promised appropriate service and respect at home by the government and the country.

“It’s important to realise that these people, our troops, have been to hell and we need to make their passage back as smooth as possible,” said Clarkson. “I’ve got involved with Help for Heroes because our soldiers do something extraordinary and we should give them something extraordinary in return.

“It doesn’t matter to them what their political masters tell them to do - they just do it. When every successful returning sports team gets a parade, why do our troops get nothing?”

Since the pressure began to mount last year, there have been some advances in care for injured soldiers. Selly Oak is cleaner and will soon have better facilities for families.

Near Headley Court, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) provides accommodation for 12 visiting relatives, despite having first to overcome planning objections from local residents.

Parry, whose son has just joined the army, sees Help for Heroes as a charity “with no political edge”.

After the Headley Court appeal, he says it will move on to other causes to ease the plight of the wounded and other service personnel and their families.

“At the moment people say, ‘I don’t approve of the war but I want to help’,” he said. “We can either give direct, to a place like Headley Court, or we can give to a service charity.

“Once we’ve raised money for the swimming pool and gym, I hope we can go on and tackle other problems. I want us to become like a fire extinguisher, putting out fires where they emerge.”

There are many fires to extinguish. Research by the Army Benevolent Fund has shown that generosity to service charities has waned. During the Falklands war, the South Atlantic Appeal for service charities raised £11.5m. Special appeals in the Gulf war of 1990-1, meanwhile, raised £3.5m. So far, appeals by service charities for the Iraq war have raised less than £500,000.

The money is needed more than ever. Not only are there more physical casualties coming home, but the number of troops with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric problems has risen steeply. Many slip through the net.

When Lance Corporal Justin Smith was medically discharged from the Coldstream Guards last August suffering from PTSD, he felt abandoned. On his second tour of Iraq, Smith saw his best friend, Ian “Molly” Malone, killed in front of him and has since suffered nightmares and flashbacks.

On discharge from the army, he was faced with an unsettled housing situation - the expensive temporary house for which he paid £177 a week was so mouldy and damp-ridden that it was barely habitable - and inadequate medical care.

“I see someone from the NHS about every two months,” said Smith, who has relied partly on more effective help from the legion. “I haven’t had therapy for over a year. I’m still working as a labourer, but it’s been a struggle.

“I’m short-tempered with my kids and my relationship with my wife has suffered. I sleep on the settee. Sometimes I’ll get three hours’ sleep. On a good night I’ll get five.”

After Smith harangued Tony Blair on the Westcountry Live programme on ITV in February this year, he was moved into more suitable accommodation. But he still feels, like many PTSD sufferers, that he has been “stuck on the scrap heap”.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Smith. “Soldiers are still getting shafted.”

The case of Corporal Tom Eckersley, who served in the Royal Military police in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, has taken longer to surface. Eckersley left the army in 1997 after he had worked in Bosnia, finding mass graves and numbering the dead. His duties caused him profound psychological distress and he was soon experiencing flashbacks and nightmares. On returning to his home in Manchester, his life crumbled.

“It was harrowing,” said Eckersley, 39, now a British Legion welfare officer. “There were babies and OAPs in [the graves]. The smell - I can still smell it. It hit you right in the back of the throat. Yet all the time I was doing that work, no one said to me, ‘Are you all right?’

“I started to have nightmares about being chased by dead babies and dead OAPs.

“When I was 33, I told a friend I couldn’t sleep and he gave me cannabis to smoke. I’d grown up in Wythenshawe, on one of the roughest council estates in the country where there’s a dealer on every street, but I tried drugs for the first time when I was 33. Cannabis helped me sleep, so I started smoking and drinking heavily. I slept rough. I tried to commit suicide twice.

“Luckily for me the legion found me. They saved my life. No one in the army ever told me that if I encountered problems later in civilian life, I could talk to people like Combat Stress. I feel very bitter about it. Gordon Brown says he’s so proud of his troops. Well, he needs to look after them.”

Dr Walter Busuttil, medical director of Combat Stress - which is part-funded by the MoD - believes the NHS does not know how to deal with military trauma. But with the demise of psychiatric centres for the forces, the NHS is the only option.

“I have heard cases of ex-servicemen who have been put in NHS group therapy sessions,” said Busuttil. “When they have tried to talk about their experiences in Afghanistan or Iraq, they have been told, ‘You can’t talk about those things. You’ll traumatise the other patients’.”

Cash raised by Help for Heroes may well be directed to PTSD-related causes in future.

Money, though, will not cure everything. A frequent complaint against the services is that they are capable of gross insensitivity. Lianne Seymour - whose husband Ian, an operator mechanic with 3 Commando brigade, was killed in a helicopter crash on the first day of the Iraq war - knows this better than most.

Lianne, an accountant, was 27 when she became a widow with a three-year-old child. Her first experiences with the MoD after her husband’s crash would set a pattern that has continued to this day. “I received a letter from the army which said that because my husband had died 10 days before pay day, he had been overpaid in error for 10 days’ work,” she said.

“They said I would have to repay that money. I was shocked but I didn’t initially do anything about it. But I told a friend who got in touch with her MP - the matter was raised in parliament and the demand was very quickly retracted.”

Since then, Lianne’s clashes with the authorities have continued. She was told to leave her accommodation within six months; she discovered after her husband’s funeral that part of his remains had been retained by the MoD; inquiries by the American and British authorities into the crash have taken four years and until they are finished no inquest can begin.

“I’ve seen three secretaries of state for defence now,” she said. “They have all told me to write a letter to someone else.

“I will always remember when Ian passed out from his training. A senior officer gave this fine speech about how we were all in this big family and how everyone is brothers in arms. And I think we all believed it . . . But that’s just not the case. So many people are abandoned.”

How to donate

The easiest way to make a donation is to visit www.helpforheroes.org.uk and click on the Donations button. This is a secure way of donating and allows H4H to claim Gift Aid, which adds 28% to the value.

By cheque. Cheques should be made payable to Help for Heroes and sent to Help for Heroes, Unit 6, Aspire Business Centre, Ordnance Road, Tidworth, Hants SP9 7QD
Comments so far

Have your say

My son Ben Parkinson is now at Headley Court, and it is as if he has come home. To see how these lads support and care for each other is truly humbling.
As a family we wish every success to the Help for Heroes campaign

Diane Dernie, Doncaster,

As a Londoner, I would like to know what Mayor Ken Livingstone is organising on our behalf to welcome the returning soldiers?

Verite Reily Collins, London,

This makes me so ashamed to be British. I have a son who has served in the Marines and has served in both Iraq and Afghan. He is a well-experienced marine who has spent both tours 'out of on the ground'. A very funny sense of humour and level headed and thank the Lord he has come home safely in body but does not tell of the horrors he has witnessed out in the desert in Afghan especially. He has a loving family and came home to untold family and 'outside' support and I feel so much for those lads and families who are not so lucky. I visited 2 of son's friends in Selly Oak on our way back home from Brize at end of tour. 2 lads very badly injured.

I heard the end of an interview of Radio 4 and I think it was Ben Parkinson's mum ( I apologise if I have the name wrong). The lady was unbelievable, after what her son had gone through and will continue. His family must be so brave, my heart aches for them and all families in this situation. So proud of our lads. Continual prayers

Jenny Savage, Runcorn, Cheshire

Keep plugging away at the government and those in authority, whether they be military or civilian. Only by constant pressure will they move themselves in the direction we all want them to go, namely a fair deal for our service people, especially those who have suffered injuries.
As the Duke of Wellington said, " Hard pounding gentlemen". Well, it is hard pounding and we who care should keep it up.
It needs high profile people and press attention, as well as the public to succeed. Keep it up for our lads and lasses!

Steve, Ruislip, Middlesex

It is sad and disgraceful that these returning soldiers should have to depend on a charity at all. If the politicians are so willing to fund a war it should be a given that more than adequate after care is provided from tax payers' money also. I too hope that this continues to be given a lot of publicity - especially at this possible election time.

Dianne Sparks, Halifax, West Yorkshire

At last some one with COMMON SENSE decides to act. As an ex Serviceman I am disgusted at the way this country treats members of the Armed Services, who have put their Life on the firing line and do not get the recognition they deserve.
Can anybody explain to me what news value we have anbout some Football person whose Father hass had a Cardiac Problem. Okay yes he is ill, but so are numerous other people in the country.
There are people out there who joined the Armed forces to protect this country, unfortunately I cannot see what way we are protecting this country by fighitng a War in Afganistan.
yes are Armed Forces will do what is required of them, but this is only because some half wit by the initilas TB sent them there.
Then after that he DESERTS THEM and so will every other politicain.
I say that Our Armed forces deserve 150% backing by this country, let everybody be proud of them, unfortuantely it appears they only people who are, are serving or Ex serving personnel.

Ian Loftus, Folkestone, England

I am so glad that someone as high profile as Jeremy Clarkson has taken up the torch for the wounded personnel from HM Forces. I am just appalled at the careless mean attitude of the current prime minister who was signing the cheques for this Iraq War and the Afghan War but now finds it an embarrassment. HM Forces give of their best through thick and thin - they just carry out orders with great courage and skill from their long suffering senior officers who have to do what demented, vain, and now cunning politicians want of them because said politicians want to go down in history as world saviours or bringers of peace. 2nd October is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday on which the UN has signalled an international day for Non Violence....hmm? just look at Burma currently. As for a part-time Secretary of State for Defence - well that just takes the biscuit.

Aline Dobbie, Biggar, Scotland UK

This is something that Brown should feel disgusted with himself over,it was after all him who was pulling the financial strings for the past ten years. It was he who failed to pay up for badly needed equipment that cause the deaths of our young brave men. It was his hand on the purse strings when beds for the military were lost. His fine words about what our brave young men are doing for this county ring very hollow and I hope the media will take this up and shame him for his couldn,t care less attitude toward our service men and women

d case, newquay,
We don't know do we? You didn't link to the article or even say where it came from.

However I do believe it was posted
And here is the webiste itself: Help for Heroes

This is the first ‘despatch’ from a new organisation established to provide direct help to our soldiers, sailors and airmen who have been wounded in one of Britain’s current theatres of operation.

Although I am now a cartoonist, I was an army officer for ten years and know the true meaning of the newspaper headline; ‘One killed, four wounded, two critically’. However, nothing in my experience came close to what our servicemen and women are facing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scores of casualties face long periods of recovery; some will have to cope with the consequences of their injuries for the rest of their lives. The very least we can do is make that process as easy as possible.

We met with the head of the army, General Sir Richard Dannett, to discuss how best to provide the practical support needed by those who have suffered in the current conflicts in our name. As a result of that meeting, and with his personal support, Help for Heroes was formed to raise money to support our wounded in their long battles towards rehabilitation and with rebuilding their lives. The money raised will enable our service charities to provide facilities which are today beyond their means.

Help for Heroes is strictly non-political, and takes no position on the rights or wrongs of British military involvement. We only know that, just as there is a time when we need our servicemen, so there is a time when they need us. That time is now. We want to help the men and women who have become casualties in the line of duty. Help for Heroes will mobilize, guide and channel all the goodwill that I am convinced millions of people in the UK share with me.

My personal goal is to meet an initial target of £5m to be used to help provide urgently needed specialist facilities at the tri-service rehabilitation centre, Headley Court. Naturally, our great hope is that others, working under the banner of this appeal, will raise or donate additional and much needed cash to far exceed this amount. We will ensure that whatever sum eventually raised will be put to immediate and appropriate use.

Fund raising for Help for Heroes has already begun. Plans are underway for a signature event called The Big Battlefield Bike Ride. I am going to recruit and lead 300 volunteers to cross from Portsmouth to Normandy, and then ride through the battlefields of Normandy, Picardy and Somme before finishing in London on Sunday 1st June 2008. It will be a physically challenging but achievable ride, designed to link in the public mind Britain’s historic battlefields with those of today, and to raise awareness of the needs of our wounded. Each rider will become a fundraiser, assured and inspired in the knowledge that every effort expended in meeting the challenge will directly benefit our casualties.

We are also planning a Help for Heroes Action Week, with dates to be confirmed. The public will be asked to support our servicemen in any way they choose: sponsored walks, runs, swims, parachute jumps, dinners, balls, auctions; events limited only by your

Help for Heroes will go live on 1st October 2007. We need your help, your participation and of course, your donations. Please help us to spread the word by telling your friends about the appeal and help support our heroes.


Bryn Parry

Appeal Chairman

Help for Heroes

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