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The Trauma Industry

Allan Little
Allan Little has reported from Bosnia, Congo and Baghdad

In this week's Panorama, veteran BBC war reporter Allan Little investigates how the battlefield trauma of Vietnam - post-traumatic stress disorder - has become entangled in compensation cases in Britain.

In The Trauma Industry, Allan hears from veterans, doctors, psychologists, lawyers and some of the victims of PTSD who have made compensation claims.

Allan brings first hand experience to the programme, revisiting his own emotions following the death of a colleague while on assignment in a war zone.

He meets Falklands war veteran Robert Lawrence, who was shot in the head by an Argentinean sniper and suffers from PTSD.

Robert describes to Allan the difficulty of going back to normal family life after such a close brush with death and life at war.

"On returning to the UK everybody wants you to be good, calm down," he says of the emotions he still battles.

Robert says he still hears from former comrades about their own long-term suffering years after their time in battle is over.

Everyday life

But the days of PTSD being limited to veterans of war zones have passed and the condition, first identified in World War I as shell shock, has made its way into everyday British life.

Soldier in war zone
PTSD was once confined to veterans of battle zones

According to a July 2005 report by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the NHS is treating an estimated 250,000 people a year for PTSD.

That is twice the number of soldiers in the entire British Army.

Professor David Alexander, a PTSD specialist, gives his assessment of the rise in diagnoses.

"It's a money spinner, let's be blunt about it," Professor Alexander tells Allan. "If you've got at the end of the road the prospect of £100,000 by continuing to have headaches, flashbacks, insomnia - you can see why people may not find it easy to relinquish those symptoms."

Personal injury lawyers tell Panorama that the 'no win, no fee' way of doing business offers a legal voice to people who are suffering and who might otherwise not be able to afford to sue for compensation.

New definition

The programme team hears how the definition of PTSD has changed since the term was first used by American psychiatrists in 1980. It has gone from being the result of witnessing the horrors of war to being - in effect - about what someone feels is traumatising.

The other guys are trying to prove that you are a malingerer…and then if you do get better you are kind of proving that you were , so you don't
Professor Simon Wessely

The resulting grey area has led to PTSD claims from people involved in minor traffic accidents, those who say they've been bullied at work and others who have suffered small workplace injuries.

In some cases, these injuries may appear minor, but have triggered deep set anxieties that date back years.

In the programme, Allan meets individuals who are ill, who have suffered from trauma as a result of varying injuries and experiences.

Panorama asks whether the legal process that is inevitably involved in a compensation claim has somehow made them worse, or at least stalled their recovery.

In at least one case, a man compensated for PTSD tells Allan that, in the end, it was not worth the additional stress of making the claim.

Professor Simon Wessely, psychiatric adviser to the British Army, sees real danger in this trend that can effectively encourage people to remain ill, beyond just the costs to insurance companies.

"What happens is people can get trapped in disability and the worst thing about the system is that it's adversarial," he said of the legal process. "The other guys are trying to prove that you are a malingerer…and then if you do get better you are kind of proving that you were , so you don't."

Panorama: The Trauma Industry, BBC One, Monday 27 July at 8.30pm.



SEE ALSO
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Wednesday, 29 July 2009, 12:55 GMT |  Panorama
Brain scan 'could diagnose PTSD'
Thursday, 2 April 2009, 23:05 GMT |  Health
Coping with the trauma of warfare
Wednesday, 26 November 2008, 10:17 GMT |  UK
Traumatised veterans' fight for care
Tuesday, 4 November 2008, 20:36 GMT |  UK

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