The Chilcot report, published earlier this year, has revealed the extent to which the government was prepared to risk the mental health of military personnel deploying to Iraq.
Evidence given during the inquiry highlighted the fact that in many cases military personnel were deployed in contravention of the Ministry of Defence’s own guidelines.
The MoD owes a duty of care to service personnel like any other employer. Its medical officers owe a duty of care to service personnel like any GP would.
The MoD designed the Harmony Guidelines to limit the length of deployments for service personnel, and ensure they have sufficient rest periods between operational tours. Research has shown that complying with the guidelines can minimise the risk of personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We now know the extent to which military personnel were exposed to a risk of harm because the MoD failed to:
- provide adequate equipment;
- provide in-theatre welfare and counselling support;
- respond to security threats on the ground (such as improvised explosive devices); and
- plan sufficiently for the aftermath of the invasion.
In short, our service personnel have been stretched and have not been properly supported. The effects of these failings are only now being fully realised.
Combat Stress recently reported a 6% rise in referrals in the last year, which they attribute to the continued increase in veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflict seeking help.
Potentially the Chilcot reports opens up new avenues to pursue claims for PTSD where there has been significant breach of the Harmony Guidelines and/or exposure to extreme risk of psychological harm.
PTSD is by its nature a complex condition. It can however be effectively managed and treated to ensure that someone has a positive outcome.
Where there has been a failure to diagnose PTSD and/or a failure to provide adequate treatment, you can make a civil claim for compensation. These types of failures can make the condition worse and will often leave service personnel unable to continue with their military career.
You can also claim for psychiatric injury under the Armed Forces Compensation Claim (‘AFCS’), which is a ‘no blame scheme’ i.e. you do not have to show that someone else caused your injury, so long as you were injured as a result of your service.
However the scheme rarely provides adequate compensation and does not cover the types of financial loss that can be compensated in a civil claim, which might include the following:
- Loss of earnings, pension and other benefits, where someone has had their military career cut short.
- Loss of future earning capacity, where someone is likely to have difficulty finding work in the future.
- The cost of specialist psychiatric treatment, which might be required on a long-term basis.
- The cost of rehabilitation and support to allow someone to return to work.
- The cost of care and assistance provided by friends and family.
If you are thinking of bringing a claim, you must be aware of the time limits that apply:
- AFCS claims must be made within 7 years of any injury, although there is some discretion to extend this where there has been a late onset of the condition.
- Civil claims for negligence must be issued within 3 years of your injury (or 3 years from when you first realised that there was a problem with your medical treatment).
If you fail to bring your claims in time, you may lose your right to compensation.