Page last updated at 21:25 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 22:25 UK

Army chief welcomes troop support

Gen Sir Richard Dannatt
Gen Dannatt said the military covenant was "out of kilter"

The head of the Army, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, has welcomed moves by the government to improve the support offered to soldiers and their families.

Compensation for the most gravely wounded troops will be doubled and it will be made easier for them to take up education after they leave the forces.

The maximum compensation payment is to increase from £285,000 to £570,000, on top of an income payment for life.

Gen Dannatt said was a "good start" but urged ministers to go further.

"This is a very good start: there are certain clear, concrete, progressive things in the paper and the prospect of a lot more."

Duty of care

But Gen Dannatt, speaking at an event held by the centre-left Progress think tank, said the situation remained "slightly out of kilter" within the terms of the military covenant - the government's duty of care to soldiers who risk their lives for their country.

The measures outlined by Defence Secretary Des Browne

"The demands, legitimate demands, placed on the military to conduct operations in Iraq and elsewhere has placed quite a burden on us," he continued.

"That is fine provided there is a balance in our ability to look after the legitimate needs of individuals."

He added: "So I welcome the service command paper, as I have welcomed quite a number of other things that have happened in the last 18 to 24 months, as significant steps towards rebalancing our covenant.

"It was out of kilter, it's coming back into kilter, and I would like to see it brought further back into kilter."

Free education

The compensation measures, outlined in Parliament by Defence Secretary Des Browne, are part of a wider package aimed at ensuring personnel and their families are also better looked after in areas such as education and housing.

They include priority access to social housing for the injured, and guarantees that service personnel and their families retain their place on NHS waiting lists even if they are posted to a new base.

Any increase in the compensation package is wonderful. As far as we are concerned they [wounded service personnel] can never get enough
Bryn Parry
Help for Heroes

Free university education for servicemen and women leaving after at least six years of service will also be provided, as well as better access to school places for service children.

Similar plans are being put into force in Scotland, where the MoD will work with the Scottish government to deliver better services for wounded veterans and forces' families.

Mr Browne said the government had a "fundamental duty" to support troops.

"The measures will make a real difference to the everyday lives of our forces and their families," he said.

Mr Browne said the compensation proposals would only cover troops wounded after 2005.

Soldiers injured before 2005 would not be automatically eligible for the increases.

There will be no extra government money to pay for the increased compensation awards but Mr Browne said all departments - and not just the MoD - would help fund the rises.

'Triumphant day'

Welcoming the news, Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: "Gordon Brown is setting himself high standards with this paper but it remains to be seen whether he will deliver."

Any soldier who has seen active service and been involved in a battle should have a lot more from the country than 'greater welfare support'
Andy Walker, Mainz, Germany

Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup said the changes would "ensure our armed forces and their dependants are not disadvantaged by their service life".

The Royal British Legion's director general, Chris Simpkins, said: "This is a triumphant day for the Legion’s campaign to honour the covenant.”

Relatives of those severely injured in recent years also welcomed the news.

Phil Cooper, father of Pte Jamie Cooper, 19, who was left crippled after a mortar attack in Iraq, said he was "delighted".

Until now, the highest lump sum payment to soldiers has been £285,000. Doubling it to £570,000 should help at least 80 of the most seriously wounded.

Another 80 or so men and women with less serious injuries should also see their pay-outs raised.

The most seriously wounded will continue to receive an annual income on top, meaning that their overall lifetime payout could be more than £1.5m.

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