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Nation needs to take more care of heroes

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 04/08/2016

Andrew McFarland in his Army uniform
Andrew McFarland in his Army uniform

Lance Corporal Andy McFarland was a hero, decorated for saving the lives of fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, and he narrowly escaped being killed when a bullet hit his rifle and lodged in the pouch of his uniform.

He may have served two tours with the Royal Irish Regiment in that far off theatre of war, but there was one battle he could not win and that was in his mind.

He took his own life in July this year after a long struggle with post traumatic stress disorder brought on by experiences in the service of his country.

In a moving interview, his widow Gemma says that with hindsight she now recognises that he showed all the classic symptoms of PTSD and although he had sought medical help he never went back for follow-up appointments.

But of course it is always easy to be wise or well-informed after the event, and she now realises that she and Andy should have sought more medical help. But then, neither thought of the way his life would tragically unfold.

Soldiers by their very nature are strong, resilient men and women. They have to be, to face combat conditions and risk their lives on a daily basis in foreign fields like Afghanistan. They experience horrors that most of us can only imagine - the death and maiming of comrades and the sheer brutality of war.

It is little wonder that when they return to what the rest of us call normality, those experiences start to prey on their minds. However, the very strength of character that served them well in combat prevents many seeking help. They feel that confessing to mental stresses would be a sign of weakness.

Yet many veterans feel let down and last year, long-serving soldier, now MLA, Doug Beattie accused the Army of failing to give soldiers from here the same priority care as those in other parts of the UK and of failing to implement the Military Covenant, which states that the nation has a moral obligation to look after members of the armed services and their families.

There is little doubt that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has left their mark on a generation of soldiers and some, like Andy, have become the unrecognised fallen. They died not in combat, but because of it.

It is a problem which the armed services must take more seriously and the families of veterans must insist on them seeking assessment and treatment if they have the slightest suspicion of any mental stresses.

Belfast Telegraph

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