£150,000 Appeal to Help Psychiatric Casualties of War

Hundreds of British psychiatric casualties of the war in Iraq could be left without adequate care unless the UK’s leading military mental welfare charity can raise £150,000 to help provide specialist therapy for veterans. Combat Stress, which runs Hollybush House in Ayr, Scotland’s only residential home for soldiers affected by the horrors of conflict, is to launch a nationwide appeal for funds this week. The charity dealt with 939 cases of clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at its UK network of care homes last year, up 21% from the 775 casualties referred for treatment in 2004. Combat Stress needs £5m a year to operate its three homes and welfare programme.

But donations from service benevolent funds and grants from central and local government are proving to be too little to support the rising number of troops affected psychologically by the ongoing dangers of insurgency in Iraq.

Chris Ballance, Green MSP for the south of Scotland and a prominent campaigner for the charity’s work, yesterday urged the Scottish Executive to “dig deep”. “The increase in demand for Combat Stress underlines the mental toll of war-fighting and peacekeeping on servicemen and women,” he said. “It is only right they receive the treatment and support they need when they return to the UK.

“It is morally untenable that we send soldiers to fight and then deny them care and attention when they need it afterwards. The government can find billions to underwrite the Iraq conflict. Let’s hope they and the Scottish Executive can now find a fraction of that to look after our veterans.”

The Ministry of Defence admitted in June the Army was suffering an average of two psychiatric casualties a day in Iraq.

A spokesman for Combat Stress said: “Referrals of service personnel by GPs alone jumped by 26% last year”.

Colonel Clive Fairweather, the charity’s Scottish fundraising director and a former deputy commander of the SAS, added: “Army medical officers tell me they are facing the biggest surge in mental health problems since 1945.

“A key factor seems to be the strain of insurgent-style warfare. Civilians can be waving greetings by day and sniping or planting bombs by night.”

The charity has treated more than 90,000 ex-service and merchant navy patients since it was set up in 1919. It currently has 8000 people on its books.