The UK is facing a mental health time-bomb by neglecting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, says Jason Beckford-Ball
Openmind 158, July/ August 2009
A blurry, soft focus version of Andy McNab invaded our daytime TV screens last year as the SAS veteran and bestselling author ofBravoTwo-Zero did the rounds to promote Seven Troop. His latest book examines the fate of members of his own unit since leaving the forces, two of whom died by suicide, while another murdered his wife. McNab has the government in his sights, claiming that the UK is facing a mental health time-bomb by neglecting soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
McNab is no ordinary commentator. He served in the SAS for 10 years and has personal experience of combat and the effect it can have on young minds. His claim that the NHS is woefully unprepared to cope with PTSD deserves to be taken seriously.
It is the British Government's complacency that angers McNab. And when it is allied with reports of a lack of equipment, such as desert-ready kit and body armour, it adds up to a suspicion that the powers-that-be are taking the health of our soldiers for granted. Perhaps, though, the government's stance simply mirrors our own attitude to service personnel in the UK. Unlike the USA, where they are welcomed home with marching bands and ticker tape, our soldiers seem to be smuggled back in like living contraband. One uniformed officer was even denied a hotel room in Surrey recently, presumably for fear that his presence would visit the wrath of the Taliban upon Woking.
The lack of adequate treatment for personnel returning from active service is what McNab is most anxious to highlight, and he's right. NHS staff should not be asked to cope with soldiers who have been trained to kill other human beings and who may have witnessed disturbing violence. Despite the government claiming that there are 'robust' systems in place to help ex-servicemen and women, a recent Commons Defence Committee inquiry was told how one soldier was sent to a NHS support group attended by women who had just given birth. Contrast this with the USA, where there is a dedicated Department of Veterans' Affairs that provides assessment, psychological testing and group and family therapy. Reluctant as the UK may be to follow the USA in anything that resembles military policy, we might just have to accept that, when it comes to treating veterans' mental health, the Americans have got it right.
McNab, A. (1994) Bravo Two-Zero, Corgi Books.
McNab, A. (2008) Seven Troop, Bantam Press.