BRITISH veterans of the Iraq war are suffering a "Vietnam effect" after returning home to face a hostile public, according to one of Britain's foremost experts on post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr Chris Freeman says the increasingly unpopular decision of the government to ignore public opinion and go to war has placed an additional burden on servicemen.
Freeman, who has treated nearly 20 Scottish veterans at his Edinburgh clinic, said: "Gulf War Two has changed society's attitude to soldiers. It has become our Vietnam. There have been no heroes in this war. Two-thirds of this country didn't want [Iraq] to happen and that has a massive effect on the men who come home."
Freeman, a consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, says that, unlike the Falklands and first Gulf War, veterans of the Iraq conflict - which began almost exactly three years ago - face additional pressures. "Servicemen know they have been involved in something deeply unpopular, which has spiralled out of control," he said. "That is another burden on them."
A study by the respected medical journal the Lancet suggests that more than 600 UK servicemen have been injured in the Iraq conflict - nearly three times more than the official figure of 230 issued by the Ministry of Defence.
So far, 103 British servicemen have died in Iraq. The military faced years of negative publicity over Gulf War syndrome and allegations that troops were poorly equipped for the first Iraq war. Now the first signs are emerging that Iraq war veterans feel they have been abandoned.
Toby Elliott, executive director of Combat Stress, a charity for veterans suffering mental health problems directly linked to their military service, said: "The troops have become part of the problem rather than the solution in Iraq."