by James Jeffrey
Friday, 4
June 2021
Reaction
08:30

Mercer’s right: veteran suicides are a stain on this nation

Another British soldier took his life last week — but does anyone care?
by James Jeffrey
We need a few million more of these guys. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It’s increasingly hard not to conclude that the British government and, I’m afraid, much of the British population do not actually care about the country’s military veterans. What “concern” gets voiced usually amounts to pure lip service about the acute suffering many veterans are undergoing, isolated and hopeless, following the country’s cataclysmic military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last weekend the British tabloids — the one sector of the public realm that usually has the squaddie’s back — ran an exceptionally sad story. An eleventh member from the same infantry regiment that deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan had taken his own life following his military service. Most of the eleven had been diagnosed with PTSD or had suffered from severe mental health issues after leaving the military. 

“That veterans who served in the bloodiest conflict this country has seen for 50 years are still taking their lives in 2021 because they cannot find help is a shocking stain on our nation,” says ex-veterans minister Johnny Mercer.

He highlights how the UK is the only Five Eyes nation — the intelligence alliance comprising the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand — without a Cabinet veterans’ minister, who would be “crucial in pulling together all arms of government and making them work for veterans.” 

The 2 Rifles infantry battalion served in Iraq in 2006 and in Afghanistan in 2009, the same years I deployed to both countries. 2009 proved the deadliest year for British soldiers fighting in Afghanistan: 108 were killed out of the total 405 British Forces personal who died through hostile action during Operation HERRICK from October 2001 to December 2014.

It’s hard to adequately convey the hellish mayhem I was part of in Helmand Province. The Taliban’s campaign of buried improvised explosive devices proved horrifically effective. I remember a radio request to CASEVAC a soldier caught in an explosion who lost all four limbs and was somehow still alive. He died before the helicopter got to his patrol. God knows what it must have been like for the soldiers with him and their memories of it today.

Since 2017, it’s estimated that 250 British service personnel and veterans have taken their own lives, though no one is sure. The Ministry of Defence isn’t tracking veteran suicides. In contrast, the US Department of Veterans Affairs does: between 2005 and 2018, a staggering 89,100 veterans took their own lives, according to the VA, which estimates that seventeen US veterans commit suicide each day.

The Australian government recently bowed to pressure to launch a royal commission into the rising tide of veteran suicides there. The same is happening here, but little is being done about it. 

“This is now our nightmare — the demons of Helmand have moved on to us through the loss of our wonderful handsome young man,” the mother of the 30-year-old former rifleman said. “Please don’t let my son’s death be for nothing. We have to stop this.” I pray we do too.

James Jeffrey is a freelance writer who splits his time between the US, the UK. He previously served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan with the British Army. Follow him on Twitter: @jrfjeffrey

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

The sickening thing is that, apparently, the Royal British Legion has something like 70 million pounds in its reserves that could be spend on helping these guys (and presumably some girls). I really don’t know why many of them aren’t recruited into the police given that one police chief recently said that the young people they recruit are largely useless and afraid of violence. Whatever, it’s just another example of the extreme dysfunction and immorality of the British state and all its works.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Couldn’t do that they would be too efficient. When arrangements 2012 Olympics went t’s up -it was the army that stepped in.They managed to assemble the Nightingale wards-the dis-assembled them. Prince Harry was apparently supposed to be their ‘voice’ on this new series-instead its all about Harry & his sufferings.Rudyard Kipling seems to have got it right about soldiers in poem Tommy-all heroes during war then forgotten afterwards.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling
You may talk o’ gin and beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.”

Kathlene, I very much recommend you, and every one here, read the amazing book of actual combat memories on the Burma Campaign, one thought one of the very best ever written on actual combat life, the name from the poem above.
“Quartered Safe Out Here: A Recollection of the War in Burma is a military memoir of World War II written by’ ‘George MacDonald Fraser”
and I loved his humour tales
“The Complete McAuslan (McAuslan) by George MacDonald Fraser
4.34  · 
Rating details ·  677 ratings  ·  54 reviews
George MacDonald Fraser’s hilarious stories of the most disastrous soldier in the British Army – collected together for the first time in one volume.

Private McAuslan, J., the Dirtiest Soldier in the Word (alias the Tartan Caliban, or the Highland Division’s answer to the Pekin Man) first demonstrated his unfitness for service in The General Danced at Dawn.”

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Awaiting for approval by quoting Kipling, Gung* din, and War in Burma by George McDonald Frasier’s amazing book on his experiences in combat. and his tales of ‘the world’s dirtiest solider”.

So goodby Ms Carr, and you Frasier, and all, soon.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Au Revoir

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“The sickening thing is that, apparently, the Royal British Legion has something like 70 million pounds in its reserves that could be spend on helping these guys” WTF??? How? Do you actually know about what they do do – and how these pounds could be deployed to help, or are you just about spending other’s money?

There is a great good in keeping invested reserves and not spending them off as I would imagine the dividends may be used to keep going, and the capital needed in case of urgent issues. May as well say they should sell off all their buildings and assets and disappear after handing each veteran a couple hundred pounds. Remember a financial crash may be coming and spending ones capital is not prudent for an endless issue.

The government is the best answer, and that with many there just is no answer – throughout history veterans have issues like this, and money is not going to fix it all – government policies may help mitigate it though.

Keith Payne
Keith Payne
1 year ago

Too many governments are are willing, in some cases eager, to send their armed forces into dubious conflicts and then turn their backs on many of them when they return. Then they spout a load of sentimental crap about them on Remembrance Day, rubbing salt into the wound.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Keith Payne

Yes. The sanctimonious crap of the politicians and authorities is why I stopped buying poppies some years ago

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I proudly wear my poppy for my dad who was in WWII and for all those who serve(d). I definitely don’t wear it for the politicians.

Keith Payne
Keith Payne
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I am still very happy to give money for the care of veterans but I generally do not wear poppies.

Ned Costello
Ned Costello
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Why blame the British Legion for the failures of the Government? Who exactly do you think you are harming or influencing by not buying a Poppy?!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Keith Payne

Keith, I disagree.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

An excellent polemic Mr Jeffrey, well done Sir.
However this sort of callous behaviour by HMG has been going on for years. It’s a wonder anyone wants to serve.

Not many years ago it was the scandal of the War Widows and their miserable pensions. They were even forbidden from protesting at the Cenotaph.*

Then the outrage of former Northern Ireland**veterans being prosecuted for alleged offences fifty years after the event. All to appease the Irish American Lobby and the Kerrygold Republic.

Now it is PTSD and silent slaughter by suicide of those the state has seen fit to dispense with.

Off course this is all completely understandable as the poison of wokedom has permeated every organ of the state.
In the salons of Quislinton & Woke Newington***nothing is more despised and treated with utter contempt than the British Soldier.

As the poem goes:
“When war is over
and all things righted
God is neglected
and the old soldier slighted “.

(origin unknown.)

(* Wehrmacht pensions were far better!)
(** 130 British soldiers were killed in Northern Ireland in 1972.alone)
(*** Thanks to Fraser Bailey Esq of this forum.)

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Lets Never Forget the Politicos in control of the soldiers on the ground – where they tie their hands behind their backs to ‘minimize causalities”, both enemy, non-combatant, and the soldiers themselves – LESS THEY LOSE VOTES.
ROE
“Rules of engagement
Rules of engagement are the internal rules or directives among military forces that define the circumstances, conditions, degree, and manner in which the use of force, or actions which might be construed as provocative, may be applied. They provide authorization for and/or limits on, among other things, the use of force and the employment of certain specific capabilities. In some nations, ROE has the status of guidance to military forces, while in other nations, ROE is lawful commands. Rules of engagement do not normally dictate how a result is to be achieved, but will indicate what measures may be unacceptable”
In Basra, the Iraqi city the British Army was tasked to hold and keep peace the politicians were so afraid of any casualties on either side (less they lose votes, a flag draped coffin is very vote costly) They issued such mad ROE that the British army had to just hide behind fences and barbed wire and let the natives do as they wished! The USA Army had to go in and escort them out after, as they were so disrespected by the natives they would have been very bloodied leaving their wire.
In Afghanistan the token German Army was given ROE prohibiting then to kill or be killed, and so sat behind walls and fences guarded by civilian contractors, less one be hurt, or hurt a local, and thus votes lost in Germany by the politicos involved! The German soldiers got fat on junk food and beer as they just played video games wile there all day as they had nothing else to do!
You want to be all cynical you do not know 1/10th the reasons to be so as there are so many – and the ceremony at the monuments is not one of them, as it is some respect anyway.

Julian Rigg
Julian Rigg
1 year ago

I went to the Falkland Islands in 1982. I was 21 and although combat is a grim and an indescribable experience, I came home and got on with my life with only minor trauma.
However, I know of many who have suffered and one who took his own life. His father (who also served) told him “to get over it” when he returned. Obviously, he couldn’t.
We are not all made the same. Some people need help. But the care the MOD provides was and is woeful. Many rely on charity but it seems the British Legion prefer to keep hold of its millions rather than help veterans who are suffering, especially the homeless ones.
I do not regret my service and would do it again. I’m not a victim and do not expect any praise for my service whatsoever. I would only say to the young men and woman who are considering a military career. Thank hard about it. When you have served your country and you are most in need…. HMG will not be there.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Julian Rigg

Sadly it has always been so. I remember reading accounts of Crimean war veterans begging in London in the 1870s.
My impression is the officer class has also always made a better transition into civilian life, their skills usually translating directly to demand for business and government jobs in a way that it often doesn’t for squadies.
It’s not hard to image, in my opinion, that whatever your experiences, it is less likely to have negative effect on your life if you come back to a stable life with a job in which you are valued. On some level I think that was some of the difference between the experiences of WW1 (who often came back to poverty and unemployment) and WW2 veterans (who came back to the full-employment of the post-war era) and our memories of them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
1 year ago

James is quite right here. This needs more involvement to reach out to veterans.
It isn’t an issue of funding however – most military charities have a good deal of it and do their utmost to try and spend it on good causes.
The trouble is reaching out to and actually helping veterans in need. Most are proud men (and women) who’s first instinct isn’t to seek for help. Second when they do, what can be done? How can you fix what is broken?
The army is quite unlike any other profession in the modern era. Even factories and other manual jobs have changed drastically for the better over the past 70-80 years, whereas the core business of warfighting as these guys have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq hasn’t. A soldier from 1914 would have an alarming amount in common with one from 2009.
It is so unbelievably at odds with the modern existence where even the poorest among us lead an exceptionally safe and cosseted existence (compared to our forebears).
Trying to square that circle is very hard and more research and effort is needed to help soldiers adjust back into modern life.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 year ago

It is no wonder that there is so much PTSD. The young soldier is inadequately lead and hamstrung by politicians thousands of miles away, who will not hesitate to prosecute, sometimes tens of years later for a wrong decision made in error or in anger. We want men to fight our battles and make us safer, but we don’t want them to fight like men. We force or generals to act like modern day Elphinstones rather than Sales and then are surprised when the other guy wins.
BTW, I believe it is a degenerate nation that sends its women to war. It used to be that we taught men that it was a responsibility of manhood to protect women. Now we don’t. We teach men to be selfish, self-centered b…tards. As in “Better her than me.” I suppose this might be a good thing if you think there should be no difference between men and women other than genitalia.
There is a war in the west against femininity in women and masculinity in men. There is a concerted effort to produce some sort of androgynous synthesis. It’s part of why the West is dying.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  James Rowlands

A very great part of why the West is dying.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
1 year ago

The thing is government and the forces are great at recruiting young men and women and offering them education etc. Then they go to fight for causes that don’t always make sense and return broken and battered physically, mentally, and spiritually and are left on their own to deal with it.

Brynjar Johansson
Brynjar Johansson
1 year ago
Reply to  Elizabeth W

Im not sure if you’re speaking about the same organisation that had employed me for a decade and a half. Do you have any evidence for your claims?

The physical rehabilitation programmes are excellent and world class. PTSD is openly acknowledged and there is substantial and increasing focus on it both before and after service. I have been offered therapeutic services after both my combat operations.

Do people slip through the cracks? Yes. Can we do more? Yes. But to suggest soldiers are ‘abandoned’ is a myopic and disingenuous view.

Kristof K
Kristof K
1 year ago

Going to war often wins votes; suffering veterans rarely loses them.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Kristof K

I think it is Nassim Taleb who once said that politicians who advocate and vote for a war should have a least one of their children sent to the conflict.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
1 year ago

The best thing would be to not get involved in Forever Wars.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Newman

The best thing is to not get cancer as well, but life is not so easy as that.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
1 year ago

‘‘Twas ever thus as Rudyard Kipling put it

“I WENT into a public ‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ” We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, go away ” ;
But it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, wait outside “;
But it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, anTommy, 'ow's yer soul? "
But it's " Thin red line of 'eroes " when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's " Thin red line of 'eroes, " when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;
While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an
Tommy, fall be’ind,”
But it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! ”
But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!”

Last edited 1 year ago by Clive Mitchell
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

Brilliant! Thanks for that, I was too dammed idle to look it up.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

Don’t forget though that pre-WW1 the army’s reputation was pretty terrible. It wasn’t a place for a respectable person to join up as the navy was. It was seen as the last resort of street thugs and the destitude who got sent off to rather sordid imperial adventures with which the average bourgeois sort wouldn’t dream of having anything to do. Orwell’s essay on Dickens explains this mentality. There was often resentment of the local population over billeting which carried over to the US colonies as seen by the obscure third amendment of the US constitution.
Even the officer class was seen to be made up of the dregs of the aristocracy and gentry. Richard Carstone in Bleak House was a typically Dickensian caricature of the stereotypical recruit.
WW1 with its concomitant need for a huge land army such that Britain had never fielded before and the mass volunteering (and later conscription) that attended that dramatically changed the image of the army that has lasted to this day.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Brynjar Johansson
Brynjar Johansson
1 year ago

There are some shockingly inaccurate claims being made in this thread. I’m more than happy to criticise MOD procedure where appropriate, but to say there is no focus on PTSD is a lie.

Leaving aside the politics of going to war or the legal vultures, the military has a significant and well resourced Mental health programme, offered both to serving personnel and veterans. Like any bureaucracy, it has failings, but it’s not through lack of attention or resource.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

The posters making these silly accusations are the kind who cross a street if someone is not masked. Risk adverse sheep – They do not realize the military are fighting men and women, they think they are Bobbies in other lands.

jonsciteach
jonsciteach
1 year ago

Jim Wilde has been campaigning tirelessly on this issue for years! You can find him on social media under Sandbag Times.

James Rowlands
James Rowlands
1 year ago

.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Rowlands