PTSD Fears Over Plan For More Army Reservists

PTSD Fears Over Plan For More Army Reservists

Ministers' plans to replace tens of thousands of full-time soldiers with reservists risks creating a new wave of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, campaigners have warned.

In an interview with Sky News, Andrew Cameron, chief executive of Combat Stress , said members of the Territorial Army (TA) who serve on the front line are at far greater risk of developing the condition than ordinary troops.

Last year, as part of cost-cutting measures, the Government announced plans to double the size of the TA from 15,000 soldiers to 30,000, while reducing the number of regular servicemen by 20,000.

But reservists returning home from conflicts do not have the same level of support afforded to full-time soldiers, Mr Cameron warned.

"The preponderance of post-traumatic stress disorder amongst veterans who are reservists is 50% higher than it is for regular servicemen," he said.

"The reason for that is they don't get the level of support from their regiment, their ship or their squadron that they might have done if they were a regular.

"If we double or treble the number and if we continue with high-intensity warfare then I think society has got a big challenge because we will see a lot more reservists who need help."

Combat Stress said that since 2009, it had seen a large rise in the number of veterans seeking help after returning from Afghanistan.

In 2008/9, the charity was approached by 56 veterans of Afghanistan. This had risen to 271 in the last year, a fivefold increase.

Mr Cameron, whose intervention comes just days after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was heckled at the Conservative Party conference by veterans over cuts, said he expected veterans to need help for another decade.

He said: "I'm planning for services at or above the level we are providing for at least the next five years and I don't expect to see a tail-off in very much less than 10."

Soldiers' families, friends, colleagues and employers need to be more aware of what they have gone through, he added.

Jake Wood, 40, an investment bank analyst, was a Lance Sergeant in the TA in Afghanistan from April to October 2007.

He told Sky News he suffers from what he calls "Survivor Guilt" and "Killer Guilt", leading to nightmares and sleepless nights, after discovering a member of the Taliban had died in a firefight he had been involved in.

He said: "I didn't feel anything at the time. I couldn't. I was immersed in the normality of Afghanistan.

"But it's when you come home and you're re-immersed in the different normality of home, the cosiness of home life, that you can remember things differently.

"And I just remember playing my part in killing an extremely terrified, dying man."

Mr Wood said he also struggled to recover from a Taliban attack in which his commanding officer was blown up. Returning to work was a very difficult experience.

"On a moral level it didn't fill me with glee going back to that environment," he said.

"As a soldier on the ground, you look after the guy next to you and he looks after you. It's a cliche but it's a cliche for a reason because it's what happens.

"It's a completely unselfish, black and white existence.

"Then when you're suddenly re-immersed in an investment bank after just a few weeks leave, there can be this profound sense of sudden isolation, and also alienation as well, where you're just completely and utterly alone.

"It's basically a hangover from the past, which in my experience does not go away. And now I'm not expecting it to either. This isn't defeatism.

"I've had years of intensive treatment and I've no doubt it has helped me, and the reason I know it has helped me is that I haven't killed myself."

A recent study of thousands of servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan by King's College London found 6% of reservists suffered from PTSD compared with 3% in a control group.

When studied again five years later, they were still found to have greater levels of PTSD and marital instability than regular soldiers.

The Ministry of Defence is set to release new figures detailing the number of servicemen suffering from mental health conditions on Thursday.

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