'End Fair Deal Delays for Sick Gulf Veterans' - Ex-Commander

By Jennifer Sym, PA News
The commander of British forces during the first Gulf war today urged an end to the “nagging issue” of delays in pension payments for sick veterans.

General Sir Peter de la Billiere said he wanted to see a proper and thorough investigation of complaints, for the sake of both past and future personnel.

The plea was backed up by other former members of the military command, who appealed for the Ministry of Defence to “apologise and compensate” the sick.

Sir Peter asked: “How long do you wait?

“If you delay it much longer a lot of people are going to be dead who should have benefited but never will and I would have thought that if my family or I had been involved and I had been ill then I would want to settle the matter.

“Otherwise it’s going to be a nagging issue at the back of one’s mind for the rest of one’s days and probably in the minds of one’s family.”

Personnel in the first Gulf War were inoculated with a cocktail of drugs, including plague and anthrax, and given NAPS (Nerve Agent Pre-treatment) tablets.

Some believe the medication left them with a range of debilitating illnesses, including chronic fatigue, memory loss, depression, mood swings, aching joints and cancerous tumours.

Other factors could be pesticide sprays, or exposure to depleted uranium, the inquiry has heard.

Sir Peter said he himself had taken NAPS and been given around nine injections – and experienced flu-like symptoms for the following 48 hours.

But he said it would be “a very unwise commander” not to have ensured the protection of troops, although jabs were voluntary “as far as I’m aware although I don’t think people were encouraged not to accept them”.

The hearing was told estimated casualty figures were likely to have increased by around five per cent had Saddam deployed chemical and biological weapons.

Stress and locally-bought fly spray which apparently had the same ingredients as sheep dip could be investigated, he felt.

He questioned whether the NAPS tablets had ever been taken on as wide a scale and for so long as in the conflict.

His appearance before the three-strong inquiry panel was preceded by evidence from Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Craig of Radley, then Chief of Defence Staff who served in the War Cabinet.

Successive governments, he said, had tried to establish a “common causative factor” to account for the variety of illnesses veterans complain of.

He told the inquiry: “This search for some Holy Grail is proving fruitless.”

He said he feared a shortage of service doctors and nurses may have had a part to play in the veterans’ conditions, but added that the lack of “closure” was indefensible.

“It is time for the MoD to accept that they have not been able to disprove that the individuals’ illness is not Gulf service-related and to compensate and apologise to those that have been kept waiting far too long for satisfaction,” he added.

Field Marshal Lord Bramall said when there was reasonable doubt, suffering veterans should be given the benefit of it and called for them to get a “fair deal”.

The independent inquiry is funded by an anonymous donor and headed by former law lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.

Support groups claim about 6,000 veterans have suffered unexplained ill-health since the 1991 conflict and more than 600 are said to have died.

The MoD has always denied the existence of so-called Gulf War Syndrome, insisting there was no single cause of the illnesses suffered.

Following evidence from veterans, the inquiry adjourned this afternoon, and will reconvene early next week.