British Combat Veterans Sue UK Government

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Two hundred and eighty former British servicemen who claim to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are suing the Ministry of Defense in the biggest case of its kind here.

The ex-personnel, who were involved in combat in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf, Northern Ireland or the Falklands, claim they were poorly prepared, exposed to unnecessary danger, and that when they later fell ill their condition was not taken seriously or treated.

Many say they have been unable to work or live normal lives since.

While they acknowledge that servicemen have to accept exposure to danger, their claim argues that any resulting mental problems should be treated in the same way physical injuries would be.

PTSD is understood to be a psychological condition in which people who have been involved in situations of violence - against themselves or others - involuntarily relive painful memories and suffer a range of symptoms as a result.

Specialists have only relatively recently formally recognized it as a disorder.

The ministry defended its actions Friday, and a spokesman said the case was "nothing new."

"Claims for PTSD have been made against the Ministry of Defense for a very long time," Major Sean Tully told "It's just that all these claims have been grouped together by one solicitor."

The solicitor, John MacKenzie, told the BBC that his clients felt the armed forces "should have taken better steps to diagnose and treat the condition once they had acquired it.

"It is a condition that has been recognized in one form or another since the First World War, and probably before that," he claimed.

Tully told the ministry had "behaved in line with contemporary best practice in our treatment of service personnel with suspected PTSD.

"The MoD has given these cases our full consideration and has been in discussions with the claimants' legal representatives to seek a way forward.

"Several lead cases will be identified and should come to court next year."

He said the ministry hoped court findings in these cases would "set the scene for the resolution of the remainder of the outstanding claims."

Among the claimants are 40 members of the Welsh Guards regiment, who lost 50 of their comrades when the ship they were being transported in was destroyed by Argentine warplanes during the 1982 Falklands War. The soldiers were trapped in the burning hull of the Sir Galahad.

Psychologists say unwelcome memories of violent incidents can be triggered by almost any stimulus evocative in some way of the original episode - a smell, sound or image for example.

The National Center for PTSD in the United States says sufferers can be treated in one of several ways:

Group treatment allows veterans or other patients to share their experiences among fellow-sufferers in a safe and empathetic environment, while psychotherapy enables a patient to retell traumatic events to a "calm, empathic, compassionate and non-judgmental therapist."

"Exposure therapy" involves the patient confronting the trauma by imagining it in great detail or visiting the location of the event. "Cognitive-behavioral therapy" teaches patients skills for coping with anxiety, such as breathing techniques and anger-management.

Drugs can also be used to "reduce the anxiety, depression, and insomnia often experienced with PTSD," the center says.

According to the U.S. Department for Veteran Affairs, about 118,000 of America's 25 million military veterans receive disability payments for PTSD. Of that number, 24 per cent are rated as 100 per cent disabled.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow