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Andrew Murrison MP: The Government is acting quickly to deal with combat stress suffered by our veterans

Picture 21 Andrew Murrison MD is MP for South West Wiltshire. A Royal Navy Surgeon Commander and Consultant Occupational Physician before entering Parliament in 2001, he was recalled in 2003 to serve as a battle group MO in south-east Iraq.

Today, Armed Forces Day, will not be short of politicians emoting on the national debt to our Service community. But those tempted to hold forth on the military covenant whilst, for all practical purposes, ignoring the human cost of service at the cutting edge of Britain’s foreign policy should be shot.

No firing squad for David Cameron though: within hours of forming his government he had ordered a review of the way in which we deal with mental illness caused by combat.

Cameron’s interest is no whimsy. In 2008 he set up the Military Covenant Commission under Frederick Forsyth. Last summer as Leader of the Opposition he hosted a combat stress summit at Westminster. This brainstorming session for military and mental health stakeholders now sets the scene for work to be carried forward in office.

So it seems to me that there’s political will at the very highest level to do what’s right for our troops.

In general people in the Armed Forces are sound, physically and mentally, and their good fortune continues into retirement. However, there is a small but significant cadre that is without doubt badly damaged by their service.

Being largely hidden, combat stress is easily ignored. But a grisly thread links the accounts of shell-shocked Siegfried Sassoon, who lived in my constituency, and the harrowing contemporary experience of Johnson Beharry VC.

The military covenant demands that we give this sidelined group above all others our closest attention.

Too many suffer years of silent mental anguish before seeking help. For others the effects are dramatic - domestic crisis, criminality, homelessness, self harm and substance abuse. The tragedy of neglect is doubled by the fact that combat stress can be treated relatively easily.

I salute the good intentions of previous veterans’ ministers. In particular, I commend their attempts to ensure that our troops have the mental resilience they need to withstand battle trauma. However, the array of initiatives put in place in the dying days of the Labour government will leave too many mentally scarred veterans undiscovered.

The cross-departmental review I have been asked to lead will put recommendations on David Cameron’s desk by the time the House rises for the summer. It is likely that I will propose a much more pro-active approach to the mental health of our combat veterans.

Prevention is better than cure, but for as long as we engage in combat our troops will pay a price, physically and mentally. In our attempts at remediation we must make sure no-one is left behind. Anything less is a betrayal of the military covenant.


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