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PTSD report finds veterans from disadvantaged backgrounds most at risk

Wales Online

Forces Watch report calls for the minimum age of recruitment to be raised to 18 to avoid exposing the youngest soldiers to the most trauma

Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd has called everyone leaving the armed forces to be vetted for mental problems following the disturbing findings of a major report published today.

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MP wants mental health issues identified as soon as possible so “catastrophic consequences” can be avoided.

Today’s report from Forces Watch claims that young soldiers from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

It found that younger recruits were significantly more likely than older personnel to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); to drink at levels harmful to health; and to behave violently on their return from war.

The report calls for the minimum age of recruitment to be raised to 18 to avoid exposing the youngest soldiers to the most trauma.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation has previously petitioned the National Assembly to urge the Welsh Government to “recommend that the armed forces should not go into schools to recruit.”

The Forces Watch report claims 8% of Iraq war veterans who enlisted without GCSEs suffered with PTSD after their deployment, compared with 4% in the armed forces as a whole and 3% in the general population.

According to the report, 26% of personnel aged 18-24 were found to be drinking at harmful levels – which it said was twice the 13% average for the armed forces and more than three times the 8% rate found among civilians of similar age.

It also found that 24% of Iraq war veterans in the lowest ranks – typically the youngest – reported behaving violently in the weeks after coming home. This compared to an average of 13% across the armed forces.

It says that recruits who enlist at 16 or 17, who are deployable to war as soon as they turn 18, are channelled disproportionately into the infantry, and that in the last five years the infantry received nearly a third (32%) of all new recruits under 18, despite accounting for just 14% of the armed forces.

The report claims that over the past 20 years, the suicide rate has been 82% higher among male soldiers under 20 than in civilian men of the same age, and that between 1996 and 2005 the suicide rate among former armed forces personnel under 20 was nearly three times as high as the same age group in the general population.

Plaid’s Mr Llwyd said: “The findings of this report are very disturbing but not surprising. The incidence of post-war mental health problems is many times greater than the MoD is prepared to admit and it is now high time that we highlighted the true nature and extent of the panoply of mental health issues affecting troops returning from warfare...

“What this report again reminds us of is the need for a full range of fully qualified mental health practitioners to vet all service-leavers to detect where possible these problems at an early stage so as to avoid further catastrophic consequences in the lives of these people.”

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