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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007, 00:55 GMT 01:55 UK
Is Britain failing its armed forces?
By Paul Adams
Defence correspondent, BBC News

Britain has failed to live up to its duty of care to its servicemen and women, the Royal British Legion has claimed. But what kind of deal exists between the UK and its armed forces? When soldiers risk their lives "for Queen and country" what can they expect in return?

Over generations, an unspoken pact emerged between society and the military.

If you are prepared to make terrible sacrifices, we told our soldiers, then you and your families will be looked after and treated fairly.

British troops in Basra
Soldiers are called on to make the "ultimate sacrifice"

The concept may have existed for a long time (some say its origins can be traced back to the time of Henry VIII), but a written "military covenant" has only existed since 2000, and then only for the army.

'Fair treatment'

Its core principles are taken to apply across all three services.

In Army Doctrine Publication, Volume 5, the covenant warns soldiers they may be called upon to make "the ultimate sacrifice" and "forgo some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces."

But in return, it says: "British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service."

Six years later the military covenant is under strain.

The Royal British Legion, which represents the interests of Britain's serving and former military personnel, has warned that government is in danger of not honouring its part of the bargain.

Extreme pressures

On the eve of the party conference season, and with a general election possibly looming, the Legion is urging the public to lobby for improvements in compensation, physical and mental healthcare and support for bereaved families.

The military, and particularly the army, is facing extreme pressures.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have, of course, resulted in death and injury. But they have also put a sometimes harsh spotlight on how the government supports service personnel and their families.

The Armed Forces, like the rest of the country, are being let down by the Government
Barrington, UK

Bereaved families waiting years for inquests; soldiers returning from tough tours of duty to shabby accommodation; soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and feeling let down by the system: a steady flow of such stories in recent years have caused senior military commanders to wonder if the covenant is in danger of being abused.

When local residents living near a military rehabilitation centre in Surrey objected to a nearby property being converted to accommodate family members visiting injured relations, some wondered if society as a whole was in danger of turning its back on the military.

Time and money

The Legion is demanding improvements in three key areas: physical and mental healthcare, support for bereaved families and compensation for those who are injured.

This last issue was highlighted by the case of Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson whose award of 150,000 for severe multiple injuries was criticised by his family and campaigners.

Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson
Lance Bombardier Parkinson received 150,000 in compensation

The Legion says there are still "fundamental problems" with a new armed forces compensation scheme introduced in 2005.

It says awards are not generous enough and it condemns the fact that in cases of multiple injury lump sum payments can only be made for three of them.

Following the publicity surrounding Lance Bombardier Parkinson's compensation award, the MoD launched a review of similar cases.

Armed forces minister Bob Ainsworth says "significant progress" is being made in many of the areas highlighted by the Royal British Legion, but he admits that "fulfilling our part of the deal is not always easy and takes both time and money".

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