Page last updated at 20:53 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Injured soldiers to get more help, MoD says

British troops in Afghanistan
A total of 257 UK personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001

Wounded soldiers will get more support to help them return to duty or to make the transition to civilian life, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

Under a new scheme, the Army Recovery Capability (ARC), sick and injured soldiers will get improved support.

The head of the British army, Gen Sir David Richards, said no soldier wanting to keep serving would be "forced out".

There are currently 102,000 soldiers in the Army but there are concerns over the number of troops unfit to deploy.

Figures obtained by the Conservatives in January suggested 5,000 soldiers - 20% of the infantry - were unable to fight on the frontline because of illness, injury, lack of fitness or non-medical reasons.

Military experts have warned the presence of unfit troops in the ranks is stopping the Army from taking on able-bodied young recruits.

Jonathan Beale
Jonathan Beale, BBC defence correspondent

This is all about the Army trying to do its job while taking care of those no longer fit to fight. You can't wage war with sick and injured troops.

It's no surprise the ranks of the wounded and sick are growing given the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that's putting pressure on frontline units. So what should the Army do with those troops now unfit for combat?

It has tried to come up with a sensitive solution that will avoid the kind of headlines leading to a tabloid backlash - the kind where they'd be accused of putting heroes on the scrapheap.

The support of forces' charities the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes has been key to getting public backing. But the real test will be how soldiers feel at the end of the process.

However, Gen Richards said no-one would leave unless it was right for them to do so, and that soldiers would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

He said: "I confidently expect that no soldier who thinks it is in his interests to stay will be forced out.

"It is about doing the right thing for the people and the right thing for the Army."

The ARC will be delivered in partnership with the Royal British Legion and the charity Help for Heroes, which is contributing £20m to build and run four new recovery centres near UK Army bases.

Its founder, Bryn Parry, said it was accepted that war was brutal and people got hurt, but once hurt, people had to be given "every opportunity" to get ready for the next phase of their lives.

The first of the centres was opened as a pilot in Edinburgh in August 2009 and a second is expected to be based in Colchester, Essex, with further centres set for other garrison towns.

In all there will be 12 "personnel recovery units" across the country, offering troops therapy, welfare, training and education and employment advice.

The structured programme will aim to get soldiers fit to return to a military post or prepare them for life outside the armed forces.

Veterans will be offered a tailored recovery plan at the units, which will be led by a commanding officer.

Major General Andrew Gregory, director general of Army personnel, said the programme would provide the "educational, occupational and welfare support soldiers need" and would "be delivered in partnership with service charities and other government departments".

Soldiers wounded in Afghanistan will continue to be treated at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham and receive rehabilitation therapy at Headley Court, Surrey.

It will either return individuals to duty or take them to a point where it is right for them to be discharged - however long that takes
Kevan Jones
Veterans minister

But under the ARC scheme, they will receive support from one of the 12 units.

Those who leave the Army will be monitored and supported on their health, education, employment and accommodation needs.

Veterans Minister Kevan Jones said the scheme would deliver a "world-class" service.

He added: "It will either return individuals to duty or take them to a point where it is right for them to be discharged - however long that takes."

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said he welcomed the government's commitment to rehabilitation centres, but regretted the delay in getting them going.

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