Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Country owes duty of care to veterans

Editor's Viewpoint

One of the continual challenges facing UK Governments is the provision of the best mental health care possible for troops traumatised in warfare.

By all accounts the authorities are not doing particularly well, and former senior officer Colonel Tim Collins, originally from Northern Ireland, is rightly lending his support to a campaign launched by Lord Dannatt, who served as Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009.

Colonel Collins gained national and international recognition for his inspirational eve-of-battle speech to his troops during the Iraq War in 2003.

It was so moving that a copy of it was placed in the Oval Office in the White House.

Collins still has clout, and by adding his support to Lord Dannatt's call for a 24/7 helpline for traumatised veterans, he will strengthen the campaign, which has also attracted the backing of former heads of the Army General Sir Mike Jackson and Field Marshal Lord Guthrie.

The helpline would cost the Ministry of Defence just £2 million a year.

This, in the words of Sir Mike, "does not seem an awful lot of money in the scheme of things".

At a time when some former soldiers are facing possible prosecution for actions carried out during their service in the Troubles, it is only right that the authorities should give equal weight to issues concerning the veterans' mental and physical welfare.

The strength of feeling against possible prosecutions of veterans for their part in contentious incidents long ago can be gauged by the amount of money already raised by ex-soldiers seeking to produce a documentary about the "true nature" of the Provisional IRA.

It is no surprise that there is widespread public support for ex-service personnel, who need moral backing and greater health care.

Governments from all countries, and from all political complexions, are often quick to send servicemen and women to fight their battles.

However, they are much slower to react when issues arise among veterans living with the horrors of what they experienced on the battlefield or in the war zone.

Colonel Collins does not flinch from making headlines, and he and his colleagues are right to give the Government a political lead on this sensitive issue.

If the authorities ignore this timely and justified campaign, they will do so at their peril.

Belfast Telegraph

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