Soldiers with war trauma illness rely on charities for treatment
SCOTTISH war veterans with psychiatric disorders are having to turn to charities for treatment or wait up to two years for help on the NHS, according to support groups.
Former service personnel are suffering psychological trauma after harrowing tours in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as figures reveal a 22 per cent rise in referrals.
Statistics show that 108 servicemen in Scotland have sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the past year, leaving charities struggling to cope.
Combat Stress, a charity which runs an Ayrshire treatment centre for ex-servicemen, has more than 1,000 veterans receiving counselling - ten of whom served in Iraq.
Last night Larry Cammock, chairman of the Gulf Veterans' Association, said many servicemen had committed suicide because they had not received the specialist help they needed.
"These guys are waiting two years for treatment ... that's too long to wait," he said.
"Suicide is a real problem. There have been 196 suicides from the first Gulf war alone. You'd also be surprised how many veterans end up in jail for violence. These are men who have killed people or seen some terrible things. The pressure builds up and they just blow."
Gulf war veteran David Bradley, 41, was charged last year with shooting dead his aunt and uncle and two of their sons.
He contacted a veterans' group nine years ago to say he could not cope after seeing four colleagues killed in a "friendly fire" incident in Iraq in 1991.
PTSD, also known as shellshock, can manifest itself years after an event, emerging in the form of drug abuse, alcoholism or suicide. It is understood more servicemen are seeking treatment because British regiments are getting less time off between gruelling tours of duty - the Black Watch is now on its third tour of Iraq since 2003.
Last night Ruth Lang, from the charity Depression Alliance Scotland, said psychiatric patients were turning to charities in increasing numbers because of lengthy waiting lists. She said GPs in Scotland were forced to prescribe anti-depressants as a short-term fix.
"People are waiting one or two years to see a psychologist. This is as much a medical emergency as any physical complaint."
Almost 8,000 veterans across the UK are receiving treatment from Combat Stress - an 11.6 per cent increase on last year. Among these are 140 veterans of the current conflict in Iraq.
Hollybush House is one of three centres run by the charity to help forces personnel deal with the psychological aftermath of conflict. The group has already helped some 80,000 ex-servicemen and women.
Colonel Clive Fairweather, a former SAS commander, said soldiers had to rely on charities or an overstretched NHS. He said most GPs did not understand PTSD and many servicemen were left on long waiting lists, which increased the severity of their condition.
He said: "All warfare comes with a mental health price. At one stage it was taking 12 years for people to come forward and admit they had a problem. Now the average is under a year for those leaving Iraq. Images of warfare on television and in the media can trigger flashbacks which result in more referrals."
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said there were no treatment targets for patients with depression in Scotland. However, ministers had set up a mental health delivery plan, aimed at improving the lot of those suffering from the illness.
Within the past month, the Executive set aside 100,000 for Combat Stress.
'If it wasn't for tablets I'm not sure I'd cope'
FORMER army nurse Andy Black relies on a cocktail of anti- depressants to get him through the day. The drugs take the edge off the nightmares and the flashbacks that have plagued him for 15 years.
While serving with the Green Howards, on a UN posting to Cyprus,
he witnessed a friend lose his hand when the man triggered a mine while carrying out a job Mr Black had originally been scheduled to do.
"I'll never forget that day. The guilt was enormous because I knew that it should have been me," he says.
It was not until 1991 that the first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder emerged after he had volunteered for the Gulf war and experienced nightly missile attacks.
But Mr Black waited almost two years to see a specialist and describes his treatment as "shocking".
" I still have suicidal thoughts ... if it wasn't for the tablets I'm not sure how I'd cope."
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