veterans sue over war trauma
By Arthur Macmillan, Scotland on Sunday, 20 March 2005
THIRTY Iraq War veterans are taking legal action against the British Army, claiming they were thrown out of the ranks after ruining their mental and physical health in the battle to oust Saddam Hussein.
Two years after the conflict began, the former soldiers accuse the army of neglect for failing to help with the physical and psychological trauma they suffered, and then dismissing them from the service.
The veterans - who include two Scots - are demanding compensation from the Ministry of Defence in the first legal action of its kind to stem from the 2003 conflict.
The case is a severe embarrassment for the military, following years of argument and negative publicity over Gulf War syndrome and allegations that troops were poorly equipped for the Iraq War.
Mark McGhee, a human rights lawyer with Manchester-based solicitors Linder-Myers, is handling the soldiers' claims. He told Scotland on Sunday: "We are actively preparing for civil proceedings against the army because they have not done what they should have for these individuals.
"Some of the servicemen were told their services were no longer required and others were granted premature voluntary release. These men needed medical care and psychiatric help but they were instead booted out of the army."
McGhee said several of his clients, whose ages ranged from 20 to 35 at the time of the conflict, were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after fighting battles in Iraq.
Other soldiers involved in the legal action, including reservists, blame the multiple vaccinations they received in the build-up to war for chronic stomach problems, rashes, swelling, fevers, depression and anxiety.
McGhee intends to begin legal proceedings against the MoD within six to nine months, having received legal aid to fight the first two cases. However, he expects to receive more inquiries from servicemen who have suffered ill health since the conflict.
He said: "We expect hundreds to come forward. The symptoms are similar to those suffered by soldiers returning from the Falklands because Iraq was a war where there was fighting at close quarters." But Cameron Fyfe, a human rights lawyer with the Glasgow-based Ross Harper solicitors firm, warned that the MoD would be "notoriously difficult" to defeat in court.
He said: "The army are one of the few employers that you cannot claim unfair dismissal against. For an action to succeed, lawyers would have to show that there was a lack of duty of care or that the soldiers' illnesses were caused by the army's negligence."
Veterans Agency, an executive branch of the MoD, shows that 263 Iraq veterans applied for disablement pensions in the two years following the war. Although 148 of those applications have been approved, soldiers' rights campaigners claim the army is sacking soldiers to avoid paying out.
Shaun Rusling, vice-chairman of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, told Scotland on Sunday: "These lads have been treated terribly. So far, five times as many people have applied for a war pension as did two years after the first Gulf War."
Rusling, a combat medic who served with the Parachute Regiment in the 1991 Gulf conflict, said his association had received more than 160 inquiries from soldiers who have become ill since serving in the war.
He added: "Instead of receiving treatment, some soldiers have been run ragged until they've eventually agreed to leave prematurely."
Opposition politicians, meanwhile, have called for an investigation into the soldiers' claims of wrongful dismissal.
Gerald Howarth, the shadow minister for defence, said: "Wherever there is doubt, soldiers, sailors or airmen should be given the benefit of the doubt, but it often seems that the MoD is keen to put up hurdles rather than see how they can help those who have served their country."
He added: "I would be concerned if individual soldiers are being pressurised into signing off because it's felt that they are a burden and the powers that be want them off the books."
Angus Robertson, the SNP's defence spokesman, said: "This is the latest in a series of cases which raises serious doubts about the duty of care standards of the MoD."
An MoD spokeswoman said it had yet to receive legal papers from the soldiers concerned, but she added: "All cases will be considered on their individual merits. The MoD pays compensation where there is a legal liability to do so."
ABANDONED TO HIS FATE
WHEN Graham Craddock left his wife and two children to serve in Iraq in May 2003 he could not have imagined how badly things would turn out.
The Territorial Army soldier was a driver for the Royal Logistics Corps, delivering water to camps in and around Majar al-Kabir where six Royal Military Policemen were murdered by a mob. He became ill within days, suffering from kidney problems, pains in the joints and headaches.
Despite being medically evacuated to the UK after only 11 days, it took eight months for Craddock, from Hattersley, near Manchester, to see an Army doctor. "The examination took about 20 minutes and they told me that there was nothing wrong with me," he said.
But the 33-year-old, who now suffers from a stutter, violent mood swings and flashbacks, has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by three different doctors. "I can be fine one minute, but go ballistic the next," said Craddock, who has been unable to return to his job with a window company.
Asked what he hoped legal action would achieve, Craddock, who has been prescribed antidepressants, painkillers and sedatives to control his behaviour, replied: "I want the Army to be held accountable. I wouldn't accept treatment from them now anyway but, people need to know that soldiers have suffered because of their service in Iraq."
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