Page last updated at 01:27 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 02:27 UK

Veterans' mental care condemned

The battalion marching through Redcar
Ex-soldiers can find moving to 'civvy street' very difficult

Britain faces a "timebomb" of mental health problems among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, best-selling author Andy McNab has said.

He spoke out ahead of the launch of his latest book, which examines the fate of the men he served with in the SAS.

Two of them have killed themselves and a third has shot his girlfriend dead.

The government said most ex-service personnel made "a smooth transition to civilian life", but "robust systems" were in place to help the remainder.

'Hung out to dry'

Andy McNab said care was "totally inadequate" and the NHS was woefully unprepared to deal with the estimated 15% of troops currently serving who will go on to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

Andy McNab talks about the treatment of servicemen and women

"I've seen for myself the appalling way that our soldiers are hung out to dry," he said.

He was speaking before the launch of his book Seven Troop, which examines the fate of the men he served with until 1993. Two have killed themselves and a third is in prison after killing his girlfriend.

"The idea held by the government that the majority of service personnel experience a smooth transition into civilian life is delusional and largely false.

"Years of service institutionalise men and women who are then thrust back into society with minimal co-ordination and long term support.

"There is a pervading sense of literally being thrown out of the club."

McNab said responsibility for dealing with the problem lay with the government as a whole, rather than the Ministry of Defence which was doing its best with limited funds.

He also released the results of an ICM poll of 3,040 people which found that two-thirds thought the government's treatment of veterans was "disgraceful".

Some 49% said they would pay an extra penny in the pound of income tax to help returning service personnel with financial troubles.

The Conservatives said ex-soldiers often suffered "shabby treatment".

Andy McNab in silhouette
Former SAS man Andy McNab refuses to be identified in photographs

Shadow defence secretary Dr Liam Fox said he felt the treatment of troops in Britain was in "stark contrast" to that in the US.

"Part of our national renewal should be a commitment to better respect and to honour those who are willing to put themselves in danger for our security and safety," he said.

The MoD said it recognised that some personnel did "experience difficulties" upon leaving active service.

"Robust systems are in place to treat and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder," it said.

"Counselling is available to service personnel and troops receive pre- and post-deployment briefings to help recognise the signs of stress disorders."

Rationing

Meanwhile, the Royal British Legion has joined forces with Age Concern to demand greater council tax benefits to help the elderly.

Veteran John Walker on the hardships he and others face

The charities also want war pensioners to be exempt from means testing for disabled facility grants, which provide people with money to adapt their homes.

Chris Simpkins, director general of the Royal British Legion, said the country owed the wartime generation a great debt, but a third were now struggling to make ends meet.

"We all thought rationing was history, but we were wrong," he said.

"The government must give them the help they deserve - making it easier for them to access their entitlements and giving them a level of income to ensure their basic needs are met."


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