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Ashamed and Racked With Guilt, The Wounded Soldier Abandoned by His Country

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Jul 23, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

    Ashamed and racked with guilt, the wounded soldier abandoned by his country

    By Terri Judd

    July 21, 2007

    Lance Corporal Mark Dryden is racked with guilt and ashamed. The source of his guilt is that he saw a soldier he greatly respected die beside him. The source of his shame is that he is an amputee, in his view, an unsightly embarrassment.

    Almost two years after he lost his arm in the roadside bomb, which killed fellow fusilier, Sgt John Jones, in Basra, he has yet to have a working prosthetic fitted. He feels abandoned by the Army, the country, and the government he served for 12 years.

    "I have been suicidal for the past 18 months. I once sat on the top of a cliff, drunk in my car, for two hours," the 30-year-old explained without a hint of self-pity.

    "It is the guilt, the lack of help, getting forgotten about. I just felt life was not worth living. I am infantry and we simply don't leave anyone behind. I got left behind."

    He prides himself that he has reduced his 30 painkillers a day to 12, but phantom pains mean he often feels his missing hand is being crushed in a vice. As he puts it with searing regret, he is a serving soldier who can no longer "serve".

    When a stranger in his home town of Berwick-upon-Tweed walked up to him and insisted on shaking his hand, thanking him for his service in Iraq, L/Cpl Dryden cried.

    All he wants now is enough occupational therapy so he can wash, dress and feed himself single-handedly and for someone to tell him when he will be discharged from the Army so he can move on.

    It was not the way he imagined it would be, the day he proudly passed out as a new member of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers at the age of 17. Twelve years later, he was an experienced junior non-commissioned officer with six medals to his name on his second tour of Iraq, when he set off on patrol with Sgt Jones. Supporters of rival teams, the banter in the "snatch" armoured Land Rover was about football.

    But something felt wrong that day, 20 November 2005. For once, no one was willing to talk to them and they cut short the patrol. At an Iraqi police vehicle checkpoint, they were waved on into an eerily quiet street.

    Sgt Jones suggested turning back. L/Cpl Dryden, the driver, thought it would be safer to catch up with an Iraqi car ahead. It is a decision that haunts him to this day. They were within a few metres of the camp when the vehicle was hit by two explosions. "I was in agonising pain, screaming at John to wake up, screaming for help. All I could think about was John. I kept asking if he was alive," he said.

    He has nothing but praise for his regiment, which kept in constant touch. He speaks with equal admiration of the nurses and doctors at Basra's military field hospital, as well as the "overworked and underpaid" NHS staff at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

    But the moment he left hospital things went horribly wrong. He was forgotten, left at home to sink into despair, as his mother Elizabeth, a 58-year-old factory worker, gave up her job to care for him 24 hours a day. His wicked sense of humour is still evident but he has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - mood swings, paranoia, flashbacks and nightmares in which he can still "taste the burning".

    This week, the Ministry of Defence opened a new ward at the military rehabilitation centre, Headley Court, praising its "world-class care". L/Cpl Dryden has a very different opinion. "Headley Court left me for eight months. It seems someone had lost my paperwork," he said. "How could they not find us when my regimental sergeant major was phoning me from Iraq every two weeks? I was really, really bitter."

    The first two prosthetic arms were the wrong size. He still has not been told how to use the third. He contracted MRSA but was not told for two months. On the day he was diagnosed with PTSD, he got into a furious argument with officers, was charged with insubordination, threatening behaviour and disobeying a direct order and threatened with losing his pension.

    Headley Court, he said, is "overpacked" with patients without legs or arms, suffering from brain injuries or burns. "I blame the Government for a lack of military hospitals. I don't think they realised how many people were going to be injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. The British public would be shocked."

    L/Cpl Dryden has started a sports psychology degree. But he cannot get a job as he has does not know when he will be discharged. Nor it seems, does the Army.

    This week, as Under Secretary of State for Defence Derek Twigg stood at Headley Court and promised the "best care possible for our servicemen and women", L/Cpl Dryden received a call from the Army's resettlement team asking whether he had been discharged. L/Cpl Dryden, it seems, has been "misplaced".

    Source: The Independent, UK
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