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We must do our duty for veterans

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 07/01/2016

Northern Ireland fan James Burns
Northern Ireland fan James Burns

The appearance in court of an Army veteran of the war in Afghanistan has sparked a necessary debate on how we treat our soldier heroes. James Burns was in the dock because he went into a prohibited area at Windsor Park during a Northern Ireland football match and began singing The Birdie Song.

It later emerged that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service and needs daily medication.

His father maintains that he has been let down by the country that he served, going to Afghanistan aged just 19. He says James has been left to suffer.

So, is this a country fit for heroes, as the Labour Party's famous slogan put it after the Second World War?

Not so, according to some of our politicians. DUP MLA Brenda Hale, whose soldier husband died in Afghanistan, argues that veterans here are worse off than their counterparts in other regions of the UK.

The Military Covenant, introduced in 2000 but never made law, was an attempt to ensure that servicemen and women would be properly treated and supported after they returned from war.

While the intention was good, the response of the Government and other relevant agencies is kept under regular review and there are constant complaints that all the promises are not being kept.

In Northern Ireland ex-service personnel are even more disadvantaged, with less access to medical services, social housing and help with their rates. That is a disgraceful state of affairs.

Northern Ireland has a disproportionately large number of ex-service personnel and they deserve to be given exactly the same privileges and assistance as offered to their counterparts in other UK regions.

How can we as a society ask young men and women to put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms and then turn our back - at least partially - on them after they complete the job?

Many of those fortunate enough to survive combat are left scarred physically and, more insidiously, mentally. They have given nearly their all for their country. How can it be too much to expect the country to give something back - medical care a home, prospects of a job in civvy street - when they need it?

They did their duty, and it is up to society to do its, and care for veterans like James Burns.

Belfast Telegraph

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