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"Losing this case could cost the Ministry of Defence millions of pounds"
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Friday, 21 April, 2000, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
MoD defends soldiers' treatment
generic graphic of trauma
The Ministry of Defence has defended its treatment of soldiers who claim they were not given adequate support to help them deal with post traumatic stress disorder.

The 280 claimants, who are making a joint action which will be dealt with by a generic court case, say they were poorly trained and exposed to unnecessary danger. They also say their conditions were not recognised or treated later.

But a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said they had behaved "in line with contemporary best practice in our treatment of service personnel with suspected post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)".

We have had measures in place to prevent stress related illness for a number of years. We take it very seriously

Ministry of Defence

He said: "The MoD has given these cases our full consideration and has been in discussions with the claimants' legal representatives to seek a way forward.

"Several lead cases will be identified and should come to court next year. We hope that the court's findings on these lead cases will set the scene for the resolution of the remainder of the outstanding claims.

"We have had measures in place to prevent stress related illness for a number of years. We take it very seriously."

The complainants all served in recent conflicts such as Bosnia, the Gulf War, the Falkands, or Northern Ireland.

MoD faces huge bill

The claimants include 40 Welsh Guardsmen, who were trapped in the burning shell of the Sir Galahad when it was attacked by Argentinian planes in Bluff Cove during the Falklands conflict.

It is the biggest action of its kind faced by the MoD, and could cost the ministry hundreds of millions of pounds if it loses.

Solicitor John Mackenzie, who is representing the servicemen, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that PTSD was a "deeply disabling" condition that had left many of the veterans emotionally scarred.

"The basis of the action is that the MoD and services should have taken better steps to diagnose and treat the condition once they had acquired it.

"It is a condition that has been recognised in one form or another since the First World War, and probably before that."

Sleepless nights

He said the litigation could have implications for the emergency services, whose employees face similar stresses to those of troops in combat.

Gulf War scene
Soldiers from the Gulf War are among those suing
Many of the complainants say they have not worked since leaving the forces, even though they were not physically harmed.

Some of those involved in the Sir Galahad incident say they have not slept through a whole night since the attack. Others complain of suffering nightmares or flashbacks, which can take the form of visions, noises or smells

The group action is being brought because the servicemen say their stress was not diagnosed, treated or even taken seriously by the ministry.

Recognised disorder

They say evidence collected by the Israeli authorities during the Six Day War in 1967, and US experience of Vietnam veterans, proved decades ago that servicemen can suffer PTSD as a result of their involvement in military action.

The MoD is expected to argue that in the Falklands conflict and even during the Gulf War, knowledge about PTSD was in its early stages.

PTSD is now accepted by doctors and academics as a genuine disorder, and was recognised by the American Psychiatric Society only in 1980.

Sufferers exhibit a range of physical and mental symptoms, including headaches, inability to concentrate and involuntary tics, and the variety of symptoms shown makes it difficult for doctors definitively to diagnose.

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13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Post-traumatic stress disorder
17 Oct 99 | Wales
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