Allan Mallinson

When the boys come home

No longer the MoD’s responsibility, our traumatised ex-forces feel abandoned, betrayed and shamefully dependent on charity, according to Matthew Green’s Aftershock

Matthew Green, former Financial Times and Reuters correspondent, remains unimpressed by officialdom’s response to casualties who aren’t actually bleeding:

Ever since October 1914, when ‘Case One’ arrived in Myers’s care, the system for tending to the mental wellbeing of soldiers has grown up in a piecemeal and ad-hoc fashion, overshadowed by the Army’s stubborn ambivalence towards psychological injury

(Dr Charles Myers was the Cambridge psychologist seconded to the Royal Army Medical Corps who first used the term ‘shell shock’.)

Green acknowledges that ‘experience teaches that the psychological wounds of war have proved stubbornly difficult to treat’. Nevertheless, he concludes that despite millions of pounds of public and private money being spent to improve treatment, and attitudes to psychiatric casualties having changed radically since Myers’s day, ‘many of those in need of help are not receiving adequate support’. While the MoD is responsible for caring for servicemen as long as they are in uniform, as soon as they are discharged the job passes to the NHS — and to the growing military charity sector.

Some of us have argued for years that closing military hospitals was the gravest mistake, but then I have long thought that while our medical services in the field don’t come any better, the defence medical establishment’s corporate thinking can be as pig-headed as ever it was in Myers’s day, when his views did not appear to support the bankrupt strategy of attrition and he was effectively driven out of France. Little wonder that ‘despite the government’s pledges to ex-forces’, Green has met ‘military families across Britain who feel abandoned and betrayed’.

The number seeking help, according to Combat Stress, the largest of the ex-services’ mental welfare charities, has of late been rising by 26 per cent year on year, and nobody of course knows by how much further it will increase.

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