The lot of our wounded, injured and sick (WIS) personnel has changed very little in the last thirty years. If we are going to change this situation, the first step we must take is to appoint an Armed Forces Ombudsman.
I recently had the privilege to spend time with some extraordinary individuals from various conflicts together with their Carers/Partners/Spouses. The only thing more extraordinary than them as survivors was that almost nothing has changed to improve the lot of the injured Serviceman or woman in over thirty years.
There were those obviously very damaged who had very properly received compensation and help to rebuild their lives, and who had, or were in, the process of adjusting and adapting. Then there were those with other physical and mental injuries, late diagnosed conditions or invisible injuries such as trench foot (not that common in the NHS so hard to spot), Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD from NI, HERIC and TELIC, or who were sadly the victims of medical negligence.
There was an obvious division between how the Services dealt with their wounded, injured and sick (WIS) personnel – the Marines were doing a fine job, while the Army was doing considerably less well.
And then there was the blissful lack of awareness of fine supporters who wanted quite rightly to believe in the noble military casualty, the young man who had had a life changing injury but who had overcome his trauma and was adjusting to a new life. He is in the minority.
The lot of the majority of WIS personnel in, or leaving, the Army is anything but noble. They fight for compensation because they have to demonstrate their injury or condition was CAUSED by Service – not easy when the MoD control most of that evidence. Then there is the pitiful dearth of joined up policy design and execution by government, who is trying unsuccessfully to manage the growing ranks of broken soldiers amongst the general civilian population. Finally, there is a shameful absence of oversight upon the Ministry of Defence who appears accountable to no body, and a further absence of communicated entitlements and accountability towards Service personnel themselves. All these failings have a direct and serious impact on the injured or sick and their families. When you are fit and running with the herd, you are invincible, but when you can't because you are sick or injured, that herd will shun you, maybe not immediately, but eventually, and it will reject you. This is the time when WIS are most vulnerable and in need of accessible and clearly understood rights.
The incidences of errors, bullying, harassment, and even ‘cover-ups’ to hide failings, continues. Little or no progress has been made since the deaths at Deepcut and the MoD still refuses to allow the appointment of an Armed Forces Ombudsman, despite recommendations from the Defence Committee, the Service Complaints Commissioner, BAFF and others.
Everyone who commits to Serve and who is then wounded, injured or sick, has the right to be treated to the same high standards, from diagnosis to discharge and beyond. While the treatment of some, the minority, is excellent, the majority is overlooked.
Meeting these extraordinary people demonstrates that nothing has really changed in years. They and their families deserve so much more. The first step towards change has to be the appointment of an Armed Forces Ombudsman, and without any further delay.