This article is written from the heart and with emotion, because I am a Veteran.
Sunday November 11th is Remembrance Day in the UK and Canada, and Veterans Day in the USA. A time when we pause and value the lives of those Soldiers, Sailors and Airman who have paid the ultimate price for their patriotism and heroism, and for those who still pay the price – disabled veterans – most of whom are forgotten.
Why should war wounded men and women have to constantly fight their Government in order to receive benefits that are rightfully theirs, as War Disabled Veterans?
Why should war wounded men and women spend countless hours, days, weeks, months and years having to prove not only that their injuries were sustained in war, but that they have indeed been severely disabled as a result of their service?
For the longest time PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was not considered a war injury, but now after the experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, it is recognized as a very serious war injury. Many injuries are not as distinct as a leg blown off or a gunshot wound, but are just as devastating. In my novel COLLISIONS I explore the nightmare world of injury, near death and PTSD, based on my own experiences.
The very Government that sends soldiers to War in the first place, against the wishes of a majority of the people of the country, is the very Government that is the first to turn their backs on the War Disabled, who on leaving the service, are on their own and reliant – for the most part – upon Private Charities to promote their cause. What the Government forces War Disabled Veterans to do is tantamount to torture, the definition of which is laid out in Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT):
“… ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
Torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of the state authorities for a specific purpose. In the case of the War Disabled, the intention is not to have to pay Disablement Benefits, pay as little as possible or to put off paying disablement benefits by any means possible, for the longest time possible.
This might seem over-the-top to some people, but read on.
For 34 years I have fought the British Government for my war disablement pension which was finally granted in July 2012. I suffered from serious internal bleeding for months during a dangerous, brutally demanding tour in Northern Ireland in 1976 when I was a 25 year old officer in the Parachute Regiment. We lost soldiers killed and others injured in Crossmaglen South Armagh, carried out weeks long patrols in an area littered with hidden home-made bombs (IEDs), suffered through attacks on our base with small arms and RPG7 rockets, and days and days in hidden observation posts eating cold compo rations (MRE). In the last week of the tour I was admitted to Musgrave Park Hospital Belfast, flown back to UK into hospital and for the next year suffered extreme pain and bleeding which resulted in the loss of my entire large bowel in 1977. Before I left the Army in August 1978, I had undergone five major surgeries. Since that time I have had eleven more.
That is part of my story (written in my autobiographical book CONTACT) and it is not unique. So many Veterans have been traumatised and disabled in many ways by combat experience, and have to fight for their rights to be recognised. This is not right and it is not humane. The medical assessments of combat related disorders are so medieval, especially in the UK, so very incestuous and so secretive. Decisions are made behind closed doors, and all a War Disabled Veteran receives is a piece of paper reporting that decision. How that decision is arrived at, whether objective criteria are used and what they are, and the reasons for the decision are not given. To get those or at least question them, the Veteran has to appeal to an Independent Tribunal, a process that can last years.
UK war disablement injuries lists are very short and the percentages pitiful, not to mention the amount the UK Government allocates. A 100% War Disabled Veteran receives Pounds UK 8756 annually (USD 13,993) which is approximately half that for the same disablement percentage in the USA.
By comparison to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency in UK, the United States Veterans Administration has pages and pages of percentages for just about every possible injury or disease that occurred during an individual’s service. Under the US Veterans Agency my disablement would be 100%, the SPVA doctors decided I was 60% disabled.
I am not disputing that assessment, because it is fair under the current misguided rules that govern assessments in Britain. A disabled British veteran is assessed by comparison to a fit man of the same age. So it boils down to an opinion based on a comparison, and not a set of solid definitions laid down for every single injury or disease.
It seems that none of the decisions made by Government Ministers regarding policy, or the Bureaucrats that advise them, have anything to do with the reality of Disabled Veterans lives, but everything to do with the social and fiscal irresponsibility of the Government. They send us to wars costing billions for some vague political or religious agenda, and then renege on their responsibilities when young soldiers come back maimed, their lives destroyed and their families in turmoil. The administrators of the SPVA are the ‘whipping boys’ who have to deal with the incompetence of Government Politicians. Indeed the Tribunal in my case in their decision regarding the allowing of my War Disablement Pension called the Secretary of State “arrogant” in denying my claim back in 1982 and in 2010.
During my lifetime, there have been wars all over the globe, mostly fought for resources, political agendas, and religious dogma. All those wars have ever done is to waste millions of precious lives. I wrote AN UNQUIET AMERICAN in part to chronicle those wars and the spurious reasons for them, set against the 2008 US Presidential election. The stupid Political mistakes we make now, will have resounding repercussions in the future, just as the wars of the past have affected our present.
So this weekend, remember that for Veterans the war does not end when they come home. For many it is just the beginning of another one.