MoD figures underline need for greater UK veteran support, says expert lawyer

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MoD figures underline need for greater UK veteran support, says expert lawyer

18th July 2012

A specialist military claims lawyer has said more needs to be done to help combat veterans after latest Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures revealed the numbers of injured troops appealing for financial support was soaring.

Mark McGhee, head of the Military Claims department with Fentons Solicitors LLP, was speaking after the MoD revealed that over the last six years, more than 28,000 service personnel have filed for compensation to help them cope with combat injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan – more than 20 times the number using the scheme when it was set up in 2005.

“With the UK’s planned withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan later next year, it is crucial the government recognises that rather than seeing a dip in the number of claims submitted by troops for pain and suffering sustained on operations, these numbers will in fact continue to rise,” said Mark, a partner with the firm.

“All service personnel including reservists can make a claim under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) if they have suffered any illness, injury or death, caused as a result of service on or after 6 April 2005,” he added. “They do not need to have left the Armed Forces before claiming and they should be aware that the no-fault scheme covers a whole spectrum of injuries ranging from catastrophic life-changing operational injuries to broken fingers. Clearly that means the number of claims in coming years is only going to increase.”

Since the AFCS was set up in 2005, the department has handed out £125m in tax-free lump-sum payments to personnel injured in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of claims registered under the scheme reached nearly 7,500 last year, of which 3,000 came from personnel who were forced out of the services due to the nature of their injuries.

“It is important people understand that the human costs of both these conflicts will not disappear or dwindle away following the end of the UK’s large-scale involvement,” said Mark. “On the contrary, thousands of badly injured personnel will need specialist healthcare for the rest of their lives and it is paramount the government recognises their responsibility to provide these veterans with the kind of treatment appropriate to their needs.

“It is a sad reality that with the kind of asymmetrical warfare troops in Afghanistan are presently engaged with and the prevalent use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the numbers of troops suffering traumatic and surgical amputations, not to mention complications and mental health disorders are to be expected,” added Mark.

NHS officials have warned the Government that the increased use of IED’s will lead to a steady influx of combat amputees with complex needs leaving the armed forces every year for at least the next decade. In addition, many more personnel will require treatment in the future, most notably those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a direct result of their experiences in combat.

“The ‘pain and suffering’ endured by returning personnel - particularly in regard to combat amputees and those suffering with mental health issues - is significant,” said Mark. “Out of the many thousands of injured personnel returning from operations there will inevitably be many hundreds suffering with PTSD and/or associated depression and anxiety disorders, who haven’t as yet appealed for medical help. Combat amputees in particular have a huge host of unique physical challenges they must overcome both during rehabilitation and afterwards, notwithstanding any PTSD symptoms which may or may not initially be apparent.”

A study carried out by King’s College London estimates that up to one in five British soldiers leaving the frontline this year will suffer some form of mental illness, while the Forces charity, Combat Stress has warned that up to 50,000 British service personnel could go on to develop mental health problems in the future.

Over a thousand former personnel currently receive full guaranteed income payments (GIPs) - designed to help support them for the rest of their lives. Of these, more than 250 have undergone amputations. Only 10 people have been awarded both a GIP and a lump-sum payment for service-related mental health issues since 2005, while 505 more have received lower lump-sums after their mental health problems were deemed less severe.

The Ministry of Defence, which has said it has made £7m available for extra care over the next four years, currently offers expert mental health assessments to all veterans with mental health problems who have served on operations since 1982.

“While many of the services the MOD offers veterans are commendable, there is always room for improvement,” said Mark. “Health issues caused by military service tend to get worse over time and those with physical injuries often devote all their energy into overcoming their physical wounds first. This means that any psychological trauma and resulting mental health disorders often don’t surface until many years later.

“Those suffering with PTSD need to be aware that their condition is normal, their needs are a priority and there are services specifically available to them,” he added. “It is crucial that mental health treatment services are improved and perhaps brought in line with the kind of lifetime care available to injured US personnel with the US Veterans Administration, where concerned veterans can seek and access treatment for ongoing service-related health problems for the rest of their lives.

“Armed Forces veterans should be more thoroughly screened for mental illnesses and GPs should be better trained to spot PTSD symptoms and informed as to which of their patients have seen active service,” said Mark. “It is extremely important that the MoD continues to work together with the Department of Health to ensure that NHS health professionals have all the appropriate support and available expertise they need to treat and provide veterans with the kind of gold-standard physical and occupational therapy, prosthetic/orthotic services and psychiatric care they need and deserve.”

How can Fentons help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for serving or former military personnel.

For a free, no obligation discussion to discuss how we could help you, call our freephone helpline on 0800 019 1297, or complete the brief military claim form.

Read more: Independent