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Wednesday, 21 January, 1998, 07:55 GMT
Gulf war veterans return medals in protest
More than 2,000 British war veterans have complained of Gulf War syndrome
Seventy British veterans and their relatives descended on the Ministry of Defence on Saturday to hand back their medals in protest at what they claim is Government inaction over Gulf War Syndrome.

Each veteran was given a receipt for his medals which will be kept safe and will be returned on request.

The veterans, who had travelled from as far away as Newcastle, were received at the MoD in London by Lord Gilbert, the Minister for Defence Procurement.

He said: "We much regret that some Gulf veterans have felt it necessary to make this gesture.

No medical consensus

"We understand and sympathise with them in their frustration that, some seven years after the end of the conflict, there is still not medical or scientific consensus about the ill health which some of them seem to suffer."
Medals that give no glory

An estimated 6,000 British veterans have fallen ill in the seven years since the start of the Operation Desert Storm, of whom 160 have died. Illnesses include chronic fatigue, skin disorders, muscular pains and shortness of breath.

Although the government is currently conducting research into the phenomenon, it is not expected to be complete for another two years.

Gulf War syndrome not recognised

As Gulf War syndrome has not yet been officially recognised, no compensation has been awarded to veterans and their families.

pic of Andrew Honer
Andrew Honer speaking outside the Ministry of Defence
Andrew Honer, spokesman for the Gulf Veterans Association which organised the protest, said: "These veterans risked their lives in the Gulf and now appear to have been abandoned.

"I can't think of any worse way to treat a veteran."

Mr Honer said sufferers of Gulf War Syndrome should be given payments from the independent Gulf War Trust, currently worth about 15 million.

It was set up after the conflict in 1991 but has only been used to help those wounded or disabled in the conflict.

Honours returned

One wheelchair-bound veteran, Brian Tooze, was handing back his Northern Ireland Medal, Gulf Medal, and Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

Mr Tooze, 45, a former staff sergeant in the Royal Engineers, from Maidstone, Kent, suffers from conditions including headaches, tinnitus, loss of balance, behavioural problems, shaking, and fatigue.

Doctors baffled

Doctors are baffled by his symptoms and have been unable to help, although Mr Tooze is convinced a course of pills and four injections given to him by the Army during his time in the Gulf is responsible.

He said: "I want to see much more commitment from the Government on this issue.

"This Labour Government had been much better than the Conservatives, but I still want them to sort the issue out more quickly."

"Medals are worthless"

The case of Tony Flint, one of the Gulf veterans, is typical. He had to give up work because of illnesses suffered after fighting in the Gulf War.

Tony Flint
Tony Flint says the medals are worthless
He is now one of the coordinators for the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, and says the medals they won are worthless:

"A lot of us are so frustrated by the lack of what's happening in this country. We feel this is the only way we can draw attention to the problems we are suffering."

Many of the veterans believe that the vaccines and anti-nerve gas tablets administered to them to counter the threat of chemical and biological caused their illnesses.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "These men and women have a real sense of grievance about the way in which they have been treated since the Gulf War. I have every sympathy with them.

"They risked their lives for their country and have had little consideration in return.

"The depth of their feeling is measured by their determination to return their medals.

"What's now required is payment of reasonable compensation on a no-fault basis. The cause of the illness may never be discovered but their symptoms are plain to see," said Mr Campbell.


Andrew Honer, of the Gulf Veterans Association, speaking after the medals were handed back to the MOD (3' 15")
Links to more Gulf War Syndrome stories are at the foot of the page.

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