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26 Feb, 2010 03:41

Price of war: British soldiers losing to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The mother of a former British soldier who will be tried in Iraq for murder says the Royal Army is to blame for the tragedy. She says UK authorities close their eyes to PTSD, a grim fruit of war.

Liz Fitzsimons is making afternoon tea – a ritual in her family for years, but these days there is a notable absence from the table – her son Danny.

He is languishing thousands of miles away in a Baghdad jail, facing trial for a double murder. A veteran of the wars in Bosnia and Iraq, Danny Fitzsimons had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Its symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, and a constant state of hyper-vigilance.

Despite that, he was allowed to return to Iraq with a private security firm and now stands accused of fatally shooting two colleagues. He had only been in Baghdad 36 hours prior to the shooting.

His mother accuses the army of failing to honor a duty of care.

“They have let him down every which way. They have taken him in, they have used him, they have trained him. He has given his best,” she told RT.

“Unfortunately, PTSD is worse than a broken leg. A broken leg you can see but PTSD is a really, really severe illness. But they have not treated it, they have just washed their hands and got rid of him,” she told RT.

According to official statistics, one in eight troops returns from combat displaying symptoms of PTSD. However, more than half of those never seek help. Soldiers often mask their symptoms with alcohol or drugs, which for some, ultimately leads to crime.

“The predominant problem the probation officers are picking up is depression accompanied by problems with alcohol,” said Harry Fletcher, executive director of the National Association of Probation Officers.

“About one-tenth, or 2,000, have either diagnosed or undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he added.

Sufferers themselves often will not accept there is a problem because of the stigma attached to admitting weakness. On average, it takes veterans 14 years before seeking help.

Many accuse the army and government of brushing PTSD under the carpet, hiding behind a stiff upper lip mentality.

Bob Paxman was a sufferer himself, and is now part of UK charity Talking 2 Minds, which claims to have developed a cure for the illness, but can’t get state funding.

He says the methods used by the National Health Service and Ministry of Defense just do not work.

“Nothing has changes since Vietnam in treatment process terms, we are still using the same therapies,” he told RT.

“The tools that are there to help people are not always hitting the mark. Now, if they are not hitting the mark then they really ought to be looking outside of the problem for solutions,” he added.

The UK currently has nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, a war that has been going on for the better part of a decade. It is a conflict that involves a large amount of close quarters fighting. Experts say it is those kinds of intensely stressful situations that lead to PTSD. That could have serious consequences in the future.

Figures speak for themselves. 30 years since the Falklands war ended, more than 260 Falklands veterans have committed suicide.

Those who work with PTSD sufferers say if it continues to go untreated and ignored, it will lead to more avoidable deaths.

Danny Fitzsimons is facing the death penalty in Iraq and could hang from the same gallows as Saddam Hussein. While his mother feels terribly for the families of his alleged victims, she says she just cannot give up.

“I am not going to be quiet about PTSD and I am not going to be quiet about the armed forces,” she said. “Someone has to stand up and say to anyone who has a brother, a son, a partner who comes out of the forces and starts displaying erratic behavior or behavior that is completely different to what they displayed before, they need to check immediately.”

“I am going to be banging that from the rooftops so I don’t want other families to have to go through what we are going through, because it is not nice.”

Read also: All of a sudden, US quickly finds reason to delay troops withdrawal from Iraq