Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 13:08 UK

MoD 'fails' traumatised soldiers

Soldier
Soldiers may develop symptoms of post traumatic stress after harrowing experiences

An ex-serviceman who recently set up a helpline for soldiers who believe they have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has told BBC Radio 5 live that the Ministry of Defence needs to do more to help servicemen.

Alex Webster served in the armed forces from 1990-2002 in combat zones including the Gulf and Afghanistan.

"I joined the army at 16 and you more or less get turned from a normal civilian into a robot, who just basically goes out there and does what you're told, really," Alex said.

"So if anything does happen, or you see anything, you don't actually notice it until after you come out of the forces."

In 2002, when he was serving in Helmand, he was travelling in a vehicle which was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade launched by the Taliban.

Three of his friends died in the incident, and Alex said he went on to have nightmares, panic attacks and emotional outbursts - all symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

"I think the easiest way to describe it is basically having a DVD player that's stuck," he told BBC Radio 5 live's Victoria Derbyshire show.

"You don't have the remote control for it, so every single night you're going through exactly the same things.

"It could be the guys that basically you've killed, you've seen blown up; it could be your friends that basically sitting next to you that you've lost, or used to go out drinking with, and it just means that you can't do anything about it.

"You're scared to go to bed at night. You're scared to leave the house".

Helpline

He said the ex-services mental welfare society charity Combat Stress provided some support, but that although his condition has improved, he needs to take regular medication - "30-odd different pills" a day - to deal with his symptoms.

We're not the Samaritans, we're not there to offer the cure - it basically gives them somewhere where we can talk about the experiences we've gone through
Ex-serviceman Alex Webster, who set up PTSD Worldwide

He feels that the Ministry of Defence's stratagems to deal with trauma are inadequate, and two weeks ago, he set up the first independent helpline, PTSD Worldwide.

"There's nothing there by the Ministry of Defence, so - to me - the Ministry of Defence should be funding something like this, so guys can actually chat to each other."

He said PTSD Worldwide had already heard from 17 servicemen or ex-servicemen "in severe trouble", and that the difficulties listed included homelessness and major problems with alcohol.

"We're not the Samaritans, we're not there to offer the cure," he said.

"It basically gives them somewhere where we can talk about the experiences we've gone through, because basically we've got the t-shirt, the same as sort of every other guy who rings us up."

Antonio Ching is an ex-serviceman who was the second-youngest soldier to go to war in Iraq at the age of 18 in 2003.

He told BBC Radio 5 live that he had not received much help from the MoD to deal with what he feels are symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

"Urgent need"

He agreed that he felt like "a loaded gun", waiting to go off.

David Modell has made a documentary on post traumatic stress disorder for Channel 4's Dispatches programme.

He said: "There are people out there who understand the problem, who are trying to help, but they're all charitably funded when it comes to veterans' care, and there's no co-ordination between them.

"So a soldier coming out of the army has no idea how to access these groups, and the responsibility is put on the person who is suffering to seek help."

Mr Modell said there was an "urgent need" for help that "kicks in as soon as the soldier comes back from tour".

But defence minister Kevan Jones MP told Victoria Derbyshire that it was not true that the Ministry of Defence did not help people like Antonio or Alex.

He said a number of schemes were in place, including six mental health pilots across the country, and he highlighted the work of the Medical Assessment Programme at St Thomas' Hospital in London.

GPs could refer people for treatment, or people could refer themselves through the Veterans UK website, the minister said.

"The information is there. We put an extensive amount of research into not only helping people who've left service, but also having psychiatric teams in theatre.

"I visited some of them when I was in Afghanistan a few months ago, and we've also got the TRIM system - the Trauma Risk Management system."

This is a system designed to risk assess the needs of those who have been involved in a traumatic event and determine what practical support is required.

Mr Jones said servicemen were pointed towards information which could help them, but that symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder sometimes appeared later in life.

He added that he was working with the health service and hoped to announce a scheme later in the whereby people it was recorded on patients' medical records if they had been in the armed services.

PTSD Worldwide can be contacted by telephone on 0844 567 9078 or via email at ptsdhelp@ptsdworldwide.org



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