Airman abandoned by his country

By Danielle NuttallTHE wife of a former RAF airman who served his country for 24 years told of her anger last night that it had now turned its back on him.

By Danielle Nuttall

THE wife of a former RAF airman who served his country for 24 years told of her anger last night that it had now turned its back on him.

Andy White, a former chief weapons technician, led a team of 42 personnel in the first Gulf War, working at least 17 hours a day in unbearable conditions for four-and-a-half months.

But now the 51-year-old's life has been shattered from the debilitating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, brought on watching television coverage of the last Gulf conflict - and he has been told there is no funding available to get him the help he needs.

His wife Margaret, of York Crescent, Claydon, said the couple could not afford to pay for the private counsellor that medical experts have recommended to treat her husband, which will cost at least £600.

She added they had now been left distressed and alone, with nowhere else to turn to for help.

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“Andy has served his country for 24 years and this is a result of him being sent to war. I'm not asking for charity, I'm just asking for help to get Andy better,” said Mrs White.

“I feel very isolated. Andy's getting worse. I have no medical knowledge whatsoever. It worries me. It just feels they have turned their back on us. We don't know who to turn to.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can occur after experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters or serious accidents.

Sufferers often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, and have difficulty sleeping. Symptoms can radically change the person's daily life.

Mr White was given four days' notice before being sent out to Dhahran in Saudi in December 1990 in the first Gulf War.

As a chief technician, he was responsible for leading a team of 42 personnel in building a secure weapons area to store all the ammunition for the war.

“Basically he was working an average day of 17 hours or more and only had one day off in four-and-a-half months,” said Mrs White.

“It was obviously very hot out there and very demanding. They were under constant Scud attack. He got them all back safe and sound and had fantastic reports.

“The problem was he was so tired and under constant stress and worry. He was worried about the lads and their safety.”

When Mr White arrived home a few months later, his wife noticed small changes in his behaviour including unexplained tiredness, depression and joint and muscle pain, but the couple did not pay much attention to it.

Mr White left the RAF in 1993, but it was not until the start of the recent war in Iraq that the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder really became apparent.

“He would sit in front of the TV glued to it and used to go off to sleep and start talking in a strange voice,” said Mrs White.

“He started mumbling and I couldn't understand what he was saying because he was talking about bombs and armour. We can be asleep and then I'll hear him shout out 'Air raid, air raid'.”

“His health went down and in October 2003 he was admitted to hospital. He was having flashbacks and nightmares.”

The couple sought advice from charity Combat Stress, who confirmed Mr White was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Last June Andy started having black-outs and fell against a glass door and cut his shoulder open badly,” said Mrs White, who works part-time for an insurance company.

“He went into hospital again for several days and they decided to do tests to see what had caused it.

Mr White, who now works in the men's health field, but who has been forced to sign off sick for many months, underwent several psychiatric tests to try to discover more about his condition.

Assessments confirmed there were no neurological problems, but results showed he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, acute anxiety and severe depression.

Mr White was referred to West Ipswich Community Mental Health Team, which recommended he sought the expertise of John Cairns, a counsellor specialising in post-traumatic stress disorder.

But in letter to the couple, Dee Mustin, manager of West Ipswich Community Mental Health Team, said: “Where responsibility for a patient's care remains with the GP, counselling can some times be offered within the surgery, but as John is a private counsellor, this would require self-funding.”

The decision has left the couple distraught and Mrs White has written to all political party leaders in a bid for support.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said last night: “GPs should always offer advice on the different options available if they think the person needs therapy or counselling. They should either put them on a waiting list or refer them to local services.

“If someone has a clinical need, then they will always be referred on to a specialist by the NHS. Waiting lists differ from region to region.

“Just last month we put out new guidelines on the management of post-traumatic stress disorder from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which are now supposed to be followed by the NHS about recognising it and treating it. It's something we do take seriously.”

No-one from West Ipswich Community Mental Health Team was able to comment last night.

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