Belfast Telegraph

MLA Allen who lost legs in Taliban attack backs 24/7 helpline for ex-soldiers

By Allan Preston

Former soldiers are "being left to drift in the shadows" by the Ministry of Defence, a UUP MLA has said.

Andy Allen lost both legs in a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan when he was 19.

Having fought hard for his own aftercare, he said the Ministry of Defence had shown a "dereliction of duty" by expecting the NHS to provide mental health care to veterans.

His comments come as a host of high-ranking ex-soldiers backed a campaign for a 24/7 support line.

They include Colonel Tim Collins, an ex-Royal Irish Regiment officer from here, and former heads of the Army Lord Dannatt, General Sir Mike Jackson and Field Marshal Lord Guthrie.

Lord Dannatt said the support line, costing an expected £2m per year, should be staffed by mental health care professionals and run on a 24/7 basis for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

There is a support line at present, but it is only staffed during normal office hours. Veterans seeking assistance outside these hours must contact military charities or go to A&E.

Lord Dannatt was told last year by Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood that only 50 soldiers would use the proposed service and it wouldn't be cost-effective.

The campaign was in part inspired by the suicide of Royal Engineer Nathan Hunt, who served with Prince Harry in Afghanistan.

"Unfortunately those stories aren't uncommon, where individuals feel they've no other choice," Mr Allen told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I believe there's a certain acceptance that once a service person is discharged, all of their difficulties and problems are lumped on to the NHS, and I believe that is totally and utterly unfair and a dereliction of duty."

After losing his legs on the front line, Mr Allen said there was a culture of "who shoutest the loudest" when it came to getting support.

"I made sure I wasn't forgotten about, I had found myself drifting slowly but surely into the shadows, and I think that's the problem," he added.

He said everyone who joined the armed forces knew of the potential consequences but still signed a "blank cheque" up to the value of their own life.

"There needs to be a reciprocation here from the MoD to recognise that and provide adequate support services," he argued.

Colonel Collins told the Mail on Sunday, which is championing the campaign: "Lord Dannatt's campaign is crucial."

General Sir Mike Jackson said: "It is self-evident that the current system of providing care is not working."

Lord Guthrie said the helpline would save lives and that "living with PTSD isn't an office hours problem".

A spokesman for the charity Help for Heroes said: "The Government needs to outline what it plans to do to improve the provision for mental health care."

The MoD responded: "We've looked very carefully at these proposals and our clinical advice is that a MoD-staffed helpline would only extend the time taken for the individual to access the care that they need in a crisis."

Belfast Telegraph

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