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25 Feb 2012
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
The father of a young soldier left with severe post traumatic stress after serving in Afghanistan believes his son’s mental health was destroyed by the failure of the British Army to acknowledge his son’s condition.
In 2007, when the Afghan War was reaching its zenith, the then 18-year-old was sent to fight in the badlands of southern Helmand.
During the six-month tour his unit, the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, fought many pitched battles against a well-armed and ruthless Taliban force.
In one attack – possibly the largest ambush suffered by British troops during the 11-year war – LCpl Smith’s best friend was killed, his platoon sergeant died and several other close colleagues were seriously injured.
Despite displaying the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he received no help or counselling from the Army and instead he was sent back to Helmand in 2009 and again in 2011.
Last November, the soldier – by now a 22-year-old Lance Corporal – suffered a complete psychological breakdown while on duty in an isolated patrol base in southern Afghanistan, when he attempted to break out of a patrol base and attack the Taliban dressed in shorts and flip-flops and armed with a can of air-freshener.
Since returning home, LCpl Smith has suffered from hallucinations, violent episodes and constantly hears voices inside his head. He has committed acts of self-harm, developed a deep hatred of Asians and was once found by his father talking to gravestones inside a cemetery.
He has repeatedly dreamt about killing his own family, suffered attacks of paranoia and has been found “camouflaging” himself with his own blood to “escape from the Taliban”, according to his family.
LCpl Smith has now been diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and is taking a cocktail of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs.
But his father Glyn, 45, from Chesterfield, Derbyshire, believes his son’s mental health was destroyed by the failure of the British Army to even acknowledge that his son was ill.
Mr Smith said: “Every parent of a young soldier should take note of what happened to my son because it could easily happen to anyone.
“The Army sends 18-year soldiers into battle to kill and watch their mates being killed, and expect them just to carry on without any help when they return home.
“We entrusted the care of our son to the Army and they failed us and they failed him. There was ample opportunity for them to help but they didn’t.
“My son went to Afghanistan aged 18 and three months as a model soldier and when he returned he was aggressive, started drinking and became violent.
“We knew there was a problem but the Army did nothing. There were no interviews, no counselling, no psychological evaluations. If the Army had noticed that my son’s behaviour had changed, he might not be in the terrible state he is today.
“We tried to talk to Liam at the time but he refused to admit he had a problem or talk about the events in Afghanistan.
“He got involved in fights when he was on leave but instead of asking questions as to why this was happening the Army brushed the whole thing under the carpet. All he was told to do was pay some compensation.”
LCpl Smith was withdrawn from the front line last November following a traumatic phone call to his father from the front line in which it was apparent that he was a danger to both himself and colleagues.
He was flown back to Britain under military escort but when he arrived at his barracks in Belfast he was accused by a senior officer of being a coward who had let down his friends. The same day he was given a medical assessment by the base GP who said that he was “fine”, and he was allowed to leave the camp.
He spent the evening at his girlfriend’s house but woke up after a nightmare, convinced that he had stabbed her to death.
LCpl Smith underwent a psychological evaluation in Lisburn in Northern Ireland where it was accepted that he was suffering from a mental health disorder.
But it was not until the soldier eventually received treatment by the Chesterfield Community Mental Health Crisis Team, a local NHS unit near his father’s home, that he was diagnosed with severe PTSD and was prescribed antipsychotic drugs.
Mr Smith, 45, who now looks after his son full-time, added: “If it had not been for the intervention team, Liam would not be alive today. I had to beg the Army to get Liam into a hospital.
“They just didn’t seem interested in treating him or admitting that he had PTSD. My faith in the Army crumbled, and Liam blames the Army for all of his problems and for not helping him.
“He still hasn’t come to terms with what happened. We have a young child at home and he had threatened her. We have been forced to cover mirrors in his bedroom because he thinks the Taliban can see him. If he sees an Asian person in the street he will try and vomit on them. The stress on the family is indescribable.”
The Army has told Mr Smith that the process for medically discharging his son from the Army will begin next month and is likely to take a year.
Government data published by the National Audit Office, compiled from Ministry of Defence records, suggested that only one soldier in a thousand suffered from PTSD.
But new research produced by the Centre for Medical Health Defence at Kings College in London found that 40 out of 1,000 service personnel were suffering from the condition, with the figure rising to 70 out of a 1,000 for those serving in a combat zone.
The veterans’ mental health charity Combat Stress estimates that more than 50,000 members of the armed forces could develop mental health problems in the future.
Hilary Meredith, a solicitor who is now acting for LCpl Smith, said: “This is a shocking and tragic example of the effects of war and an Army stretched to its limits.
“The number and frequency of operational tours military personnel are expected to complete are taking its toll.
“Lessons from the past are still not being implemented at ground level, and the MoD must take action to ensure we are not sitting on a mental health time bomb.”
An MoD spokesman said: “The mental health of service personnel is a top priority and we have robust systems in place to identify and treat those deemed to be at risk from mental health issues prior to, during and after deployments.
“The MoD’s highly experienced mental health professionals deliver world class treatment at the 15 military Departments of Community Mental Health. Due to patient confidentiality, it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases.”