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Forsaken War Heroes - The Veteran's Tale

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by anthony, Sep 30, 2006.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Renovation Aficionado Founder

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    Corporal Scott Garthley remembers vividly the moment he was injured. Running for cover from the deadly missiles flying overhead, he was just hours into the first day of the Iraq war, March 20, 2003. “Scud, Scud!” came the cries from comrades fleeing for safety amid the roar of enemy fire. Then came a sickening thud and clouds of sand birled into the air. In an instant, everything went quiet.

    Garthley, a reservist from Dundee, woke up buried in a ditch in the middle of the raging battlefield. He doesn’t remember how long he lay there — he reckons about two hours — but it took him a while before he even realised he was still breathing. “I thought I was dead when I first came to my senses. I had no feeling in my body,” he says. “All I could see was blue sky. A fly landed on my nose and it was then I realised I was alive. Then the pain started.”

    When fellow soldiers discovered him he was writhing in agony and clutching a photo. His young son’s face smiled with hope from his quivering palm.

    During the rescue operation, another Scud alert came. Garthley’s voice trembles as he remembers how the soldiers risked their lives to save him. “None of them fled. They all stayed to make sure I got into the Land Rover. I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it.”

    But, according to Garthley, the real nightmare began when he was flown back to England with spinal injuries. Dumped, as he describes it, at the accident and emergency unit of Selly Oak hospital, in Birmingham, his reception, he claims, was less than welcoming.

    “The first thing they said to me was to take my uniform off in case I offended anyone,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. Then a junior registrar looked at me quickly and said there were no beds for me. I was given a walking stick and told to go home and see my GP. Just 48 hours before I’d been serving Queen and country. But they couldn’t care less.”

    Seventeen medical procedures later, Garthley can barely walk half a mile. His spinal, shoulder and knee injuries mean he endures regular and sustained pain. Diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he is on constant medication and visits a psychiatrist monthly. His well-paid city job — he enjoyed an annual salary of £100,000 working in human resources for a bank — is a distant memory. The change in his personal circumstances is so dramatic, it is perhaps no surprise he is suing the MoD for medical negligence. The claim amounts to a staggering £2.8m for income, the equivalent of his salary for the next 28 years, and £60,000 to cover the medical expenses borne by his private health insurance.

    Garthley’s case has assumed enormous importance for reservists serving in Iraq. Though they make up 25% of the British Army, home reservists do not receive the same support as regular soldiers in terms of pensions and healthcare. Yet a Lancet study published earlier this year revealed that reservists returning home from active duty in Iraq were found to suffer more psychologically than regular soldiers they had fought alongside: they were 50% more likely to have PTSD.

    A government announcement in May was seen by some as a ray of hope for reservists. The veterans minister, Tom Watson, said those demobilised since January 2003 will have access to treatment from Defence Medical Services — previously only available to full-time soldiers. But more than four months on, reservists are still without treatment — a further announcement is due later this year. And as far as Garthley’s case is concerned, the MoD is contesting his claim of negligence.

    The Scot sits in the comfortable living room of his three-bedroom detached house in a quiet, suburb of Northampton. Largely housebound, this broad-shouldered graduate of Edinburgh University now lives a life far removed from the one pre-Operation Telic, the codename for British operations in and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

    A framed Iraqi banknote hangs on the wall: a gift from a fighting friend, it is the only memorabilia from his time in Iraq. “It’s a bridge between my life in Iraq and my life in banking. It’s my only war trophy,” Garthley says.

    The former reservist says he was released from hospital with nothing more than a walking stick and the instruction that he be sent back to Iraq in three weeks. Instead, he went to see a spinal surgeon, who, he says, told him that under no circumstances should he return to the front line.

    Garthley recalls that the specialist also said that a spinal injury he sustained while serving in the Territorial Army in 1999 meant he should never have been sent to Iraq in the first place.

    In the months following, despite repeatedly asking the MoD for psychological help to deal with the trauma, Garthley says he received nothing. The signs of PTSD remained undiagnosed until November 2004 — more than 12 months after the trauma, a time lapse which makes the condition almost impossible to cure. Now Garthley says PTSD plagues him whether he is awake or asleep. Flashbacks occur daily.

    One nightmare stands out. He stands with a bayonet in Iraq in front of a line of women. Menacingly, he plunges the weapon into their quivering bodies, watching them drop to the ground in pain. According to his psychiatrist, the recurring nightmare is a sign of Garthley’s sense of guilt because he did not rejoin his comrades-in-arms.

    Mood swings catapult Garthley from absolute joy to abject misery. The smallest thing sets him off, like setting a match to touch paper. Hospital visits bring the memories flooding back and the medication doesn’t always help.

    “It numbs you,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t even know if you are having a real emotion. You don’t know if you love or hate someone. That’s really tough. You feel numb even to your family and children.”

    There was a time when weekends were devoted to his loving girlfriend and their son or to the TA, with a rewarding week of work stretching ahead. But by the time he had been diagnosed with PTSD, Garthley’s girlfriend and the mother of his son had left him. Then, in August this year, he was made redundant from his bank job after 12 months’ sick leave.

    He has considered retraining or voluntary work, but the pressure of dealing with people is too great. Were he able, he would return to Iraq. “I’ve got no problems serving my country again, because I believe we were there for the right reasons,” he says. “I’ve only got a problem fighting for politicians that don’t want to fight for me.”

    But the case is far from over. “The MoD will pay compensation if it is established that there is a legal liability to pay it,” said an MoD spokesman. “But it would be inappropriate to comment on this specific case at the moment as legal proceedings are under way.”

    Garthley’s focus remains fixed on his legal battle, which is expected to go to the High Court in London early next year. A victory for him will, he hopes, benefit all wounded soldiers.

    “If you’re going to take people to war then you have to be willing to pay the price: to look after them properly. The MoD needs to make sure it gives all soldiers adequate medical treatment when they need it and that financially they are not out of pocket,” he says.

    “The people injured in the London bombings got counselling and help straight away. But I, along with hundreds of other reservists, got nothing. I still think about soldiers out in Iraq today. They are part of my family now. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have.”

    Source: The Sunday Times
     
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