A Panorama investigation has revealed the shocking number of war veterans that commit suicide each year due to post traumatic stress disorder. According to the investigation, 50 soldiers took their lives last year, in stark comparison to the official seven soldiers presented by the Veterans Minister to Parliament.
These statistics are all the more shocking when juxtaposed with the number of military deaths in combat. 44 soldiers died in Afghanistan last year, meaning that the number of suicides was higher than those killed in battle itself. Obviously, both statistics are tragic. Yet although deaths on the ground are somewhat inevitable in the context of war, deaths as a result of PTSD are very much preventable. As Dr Claudia Herbert, a leading expert on the illness notes, PTSD is ‘treatable’ through counselling and other psychiatric methods. So why aren’t the MOD doing more?
The main problem is that veterans are not tracked once they have left the armed forces, but are instead left to their own devices, unlike in the US. When combined with the poor transition of medical notes between army and NHS practitioners, plus the culture of concealing mental weakness that the military fosters, it is little wonder that many soldiers are not receiving the help that they so desperately need and deserve. After all, whatever one’s opinion on the military operations Britain is involved in, the soldiers themselves should not suffer for the atrocities that they have witnessed and been ordered to commit.
Nevertheless, these figures are somewhat misleading. Comparing the number of military casualties in a year to the number of veteran suicides overall distorts the fact that there are 3.8 million veterans in England alone. This figure cannot be compared like for like with the number of deaths of those serving at the moment. In fact, in an MOD statement in response to the Panorama statistics, they claimed that though every suicide was a ‘tragedy’, even when compared with civilian suicides, military suicide rates are comparatively lower. However, if even one soldier kills themselves from PTSD as they have not been supported adequately, it is the army that should take responsibility for this, not the individuals themselves or charities alone.
Dan Collins was one such victim of the army’s unwillingness to take responsibility. Being part of Operation Panther Claw meant the Lance Sergeant experienced intense combat, and also bore witness to his best friend being blown to pieces before his eyes. These experiences led to nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD upon returning home. Although he was given 10 months treatment after army referral, there was little consistency to his treatment and once discharged Collins attempted suicide. He was then handed over to the NHS for treatment, an environment that his mother believes worsened the problem. On New Years Eve, after his girlfriend asked him to leave under the strain PTSD put on their relationship, Collins drove into the Preseli mountains and hanged himself, although not before filming a suicide video on his phone which was aired on the BBC, highlighting his sheer despair at the person he had become.
Throughout the Panorama documentary, you couldn’t help but feel that much more could and should have been done by the army, whether by paying adequate attention to medical notes which drew attention to the high risk of suicide, providing more suitable residential care, or simply reaching out to those who have had it instilled into them to not admit any sign of weakness. Three mothers of soldier suicide victims have come forward to present a petition to Parliament to target some of these issues, including suggestions to reinstate military residential care for those suffering from PTSD. What will come of this is at this time unclear, although the MOD has promised £7.4 million for mental health support.
The army should stand up to help those who they have sent to risk their lives. All these soldiers have done is serve their country and they should not be abandoned once they are no longer fit to fulfill this duty. After all, as Deana Collins (mother of Dan) rightly stated, these men are ‘victims of war’ just as much as those killed in combat and should be treated as such.