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Armed Forces Compensation Scheme 'infected' by compensation culture - Response by BAFF Chairman

Today’s Mail on Sunday claims that “Britain’s compensation culture” has now “infected” our armed forces.

A story by respected defence journalist Sean Rayment says that since 2005, more than 16.000 troops have been paid almost £341 million under the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS).

Individual lump sum settlements can range from a minimum of £1,200 to a maximum of £570,000. On the basis of the Mail’s figures, we estimate an average compensation payment of £21,000 or less per injured soldier.

'Spurious or exaggerated claims'

While conceding that many of these cases are “tragic and genuine”, the Mail says that

… between 2005 and 2012 about 11,000 compensation claims submitted by serving and former service personnel were rejected, raising fears of spurious or exaggerated claims…

Defence sources admit that many within the military are attempting to ‘milk the system’ by exaggerating or creating false ailments.

Such figures are, however, meaningless without some analysis of the reasons for rejection. The scheme excludes, for example, “Injuries predominantly caused by slipping, tripping or falling”, which intuitively one might expect to be covered while engaged in a military activity. Remember, the AFCS is a no-fault compensation scheme.

Sports injuries

According to one (presumably) Army source quoted in the article,

‘There have been numerous examples of soldiers submitting claims for sports injuries which they have later said happened while on operations.’

What is not mentioned is that injuries incurred during authorised sports are covered by the AFCS just as much as injuries on operations. That is because service personnel are expected to maintain a high level of fitness as part of their professional obligations.

It gets worse. The Mail appears to believe not only that a minority of claims are “spurious or exaggerated”, but that too many claims are being settled which are entirely justified within the rules. It complains that the number of claims has “rocketed” since the AFCs replaced the old War Pension scheme in 2005.

Here I should declare an indirect interest on BAFF’s behalf. Like many other professional staff associations, we are registered with the Claims Management Regulator as a referrer for some types of claim, incidentally not including AFCS claims which we think should usually not need legal assistance. This secondary activity is undertaken as a service to our members, and has never involved any fee to BAFF. Our involvement in claims does, at least, mean that we have an understanding of these matters.

Other organisations, such as The Royal British Legion, also provide access to legal services, and rightly so.

The Legion also provides comprehensive information on its website about various kinds of claim, including claims under the AFCS. The MoD similarly provides information, but according to the Mail, has been criticised for doing so:

The volume of claims has been partly blamed on ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers and the Ministry of Defence, which publicises the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme through adverts and YouTube videos.

Can it really be wrong to publish such information in a form which reaches the majority of troops who can use it, given that the AFCS was never intended to be solely for the benefit of the most seriously wounded?

'System being wholly abused'

The Mail story continues:

One senior officer said last night: ‘Britain’s compensation culture has now reached the Armed Forces. It is a system that is now being wholly abused and the MoD only has itself to blame.

‘It’s all part of the “me-first culture”. The old and bold veterans of the past would be turning in their graves.’

The quote must be genuine – we wouldn’t expect anything else from the story’s author.

So one has to ask, what kind of "senior officer" actively spins AGAINST compensation for wounded and injured soldiers?

What kind of "senior officer" apparently feels that, in between the seriously injured at one end of the scale and those refused compensation at the other, there are too many genuinely injured soldiers getting too much?

What kind of "senior officer" objects to compensation lawfully awarded by our Government under detailed regulations approved by Parliament?

Look them in the eye

Amongst the membership of the British Armed Forces Federation, naturally we have our share of injured serving personnel. I am privileged to know some of them personally. I served with two of them, and another is a relative. I wonder how that senior officer could look any of them in the eye while saying what he has to the Mail.

It is too easily forgotten that a moderate injury, which would not be life-changing in most professions, can easily mean the end of a career in the armed forces. AFCS compensation is little enough in those circumstances. The Scheme isn’t a soft touch either, and some ultimately successful claims have only been granted after exhaustive appeals and legal assistance.

Lady Bountiful attitude

The Mail story, and a few of the comments below it, betray a Lady Bountiful attitude whereby the most injured “heroes” may be helped as a matter of charity and discretion, never as a right, never to be independently advised, never to have control of their own futures.

Britain's outrage culture?

Perhaps the story is really not so much about “Britain’s compensation culture”, but about Britain’s outrage culture where we complain one week that compensation has been denied, the next that far too much is being paid and they don’t deserve it anyway.

The Mail itself ran a large number of stories about compensation being denied under the last Labour Government, although it was that same Government which introduced the more generous AFCS in the first place. The Mail also reported favourably on the present Government’s implementation of the Lord Boyce proposals, which led directly to the significant increase in payouts during 2011-12.

Inconvenient

It is no doubt inconvenient that servicemen and women have been getting themselves wounded or injured on duty and that this is costing money. Where claims are unjustified, don’t pay out. Prosecute actual fraud. Keep the detailed structure of the Scheme under review, which it is.

But if the Service Covenant means anything, I believe that we as a nation must continue to honour the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

DOUGLAS YOUNG

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Tags: AFCS, compensation, claims

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