A non-partisan journal of the left.

Facing up to Trauma

Wed 14th Sep 2011

According to the Telegraph, estimates based on official Ministry of Defense figures show that 191,690 British soldiers have been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Around 50,000 of these soldiers have seen action in both conflicts.

Experts have warned that a tidal wave of trauma is going to hit the United Kingdom as a direct consequence of the military deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Research shows that an estimated 27% of veterans are likely to develop mental health problems as a consequence of time spent on the front line.

Around 5% of these soldiers are likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can lead to alcoholism, depression, domestic violence and a wide range of other devastating problems. Combat Stress, the veterans’ mental health charity, has stated that around 9,200 veterans were potentially going to display symptoms of PTSD, twice the charity’s current case load. Andrew Cameron, the charity’s chief executive, has revealed that the number of veterans contacting the charity is steadily increasing by around 10% each year.

Meanwhile, according to a new survey, half of Britain’s doctors are unaware of the official guidelines on how to diagnose mental health problems amongst veterans, leading many to fear that thousands of veterans are not being diagnosed early enough to prevent the full onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The survey carried out by ComRes, a research and polling consultancy, found that only 42% of GPs were familiar with guidelines on PTSD. ComRes was commissioned by Combat Stress to survey around 1,000 GPs across the UK in July 2011. Only 5% of the veterans the charity is helping had been referred by a GP.

Walter Busuttil, director of medical services at Combat Stress, has said: “Our clinical audits tell us that 80% of veterans who come to us for clinical treatment have first tried to get help from either their GP or other specialist services, but have not received the support and treatment that they needed.’’

It takes a veteran approximately fourteen years after leaving active service to make contact with Combat Stress.

Dr Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, admitted that “inequalities persist surrounding the care of military personnel when they return to the UK”, adding that the College has produced guidance “to help GPs better understand veterans’ particular needs”.

Across the United Kingdom, up to a third of all homeless people are former soldiers, sailors or airmen. As many as 8,000 veterans are currently serving time in jail, amounting to nearly 10% of the British prison population.

Combat Stress has produced an online leaflet titled ‘Meeting the Healthcare Needs of Veterans’, which is available for download http://www.combatstress.org.uk/

The Royal British Legion also contains information on other practical welfare services that are equally available to both veterans’ and their dependents http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/

Hussein Al-Alak is a British based journalist and is chairman of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign UK. Hussein is also a member of the Royal British Legion and a mental health advocate for Combat Stress.
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