Veterans of the first Gulf War have urged their former comrades to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) amid concerns that soldiers are still struggling to cope with the horrors of the conflict, 30 years on.
Staff with military charity Help for Heroes said they have seen a rise in workload since the coronavirus pandemic due to ex-servicemen and women being “cooped up” at home and reflecting on their time in the armed forces.
The Gulf War ended on February 28 1991, following the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, when allied forces pushed Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops into a retreat from neighbouring Kuwait which they had invaded the previous August.
Some 47 British personnel were among the fatalities, although the effects of the seven-month war were felt by many of those who served.
Veterans told the PA news agency they battled with depression, divorce, harrowing flashbacks and suicide attempts following the Gulf War, but said they refused to seek help because it was not the “manly thing to do” at the time.
Graham Hudspith, 53, a petty officer now living in Coventry, said: “Nobody ever spoke about it, people didn’t even talk about the Falklands.
“I know people who (ended their lives), two weeks ago. It is still happening today.
“Some of them can’t get the thoughts, the pictures of what they saw, out of their heads.”
Fellow ex-serviceman Kevin Muldoon jumped from the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde six years after returning from serving with the Royal Corps of Transport in the Gulf, but was caught by a suicide prevention device.
Reflecting on that time in his life, which involved flashbacks and nightmares as part of his PTSD, the 64-year-old, from Glasgow, said: “Quite a few people I know have taken their own life. I just thought I’m not putting my family through that any more.
“You relive it, you’re actually there, you smell it, you can feel it , you can touch it, you can taste it, and that came back again. It cost me my marriage.”
Veteran Kevin Gray also recalled having nightmares about the conflict shortly after returning from the Gulf with the Royal Artillery.
The 50-year-old, from Fleetwood in Lancashire, said: “The time while I was out there doing the job I didn’t feel it actually affected me, but it later did.
“I started having quite severe nightmares. There were burning hands sticking out in the sand – those were the type of nightmares.
“They are images that are burned into your psyche. You can’t just turn them off, they’re there all the time.”
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Duane Fletcher, now a Help for Heroes clinician, said many former service personnel are continuing to “bottle up” their grief from the Gulf War.
The 56-year-old, from Bedale in North Yorkshire, said: “Thirty years ago there was a stigma that people were being weak if they had mental health problems.
“It’s now more open in society and people appreciate you can have mental health issues from a variety of things.
“Thirty years ago, you were weak (sharing feelings). People wrapped it up and kept it locked away instead of dealing with it.”
But he said the last 12 months have seen an increase in veterans coming forward and seeking help.
Mr Muldoon, who was treated by Mr Fletcher in a British field hospital during the Gulf War, drew on his own experience of ignoring his problems before turning his life around by getting in touch with Help for Heroes two years ago.
“I never bothered with help, people were phoning me, I was drunk, not interested,” he said.
“I’ve been that man that sat in my house, got the booze delivered, and you just go down and down and down.
“But one phone call to Help for Heroes and the floodgates opened. It’s been nothing but good news. It’s been a revelation.”
Mr Hudspith said the memories of conflict are “like grief – they never go away”, and added that seeking professional help from support services is invaluable.
And Mr Gray, who was medically discharged with PTSD in 1995, said: “If there was a stigma (about seeking help), forget it.
“Go and stick your hand up and say ‘I need help’. That is one of the bravest things to do, in my eyes.
“I lived for 20 years thinking I was useless. Now I’m a Help for Heroes ambassador.
“It’s given me a purpose in life again, I feel like somebody again.”
– For more information, visit https://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/