UK Soldier and Veteran Suicides ‘Outstrip Afghan Deaths’

More British soldiers and veterans took their own lives in 2012 than died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan over the same period. BBC Panorama learned that 21 serving soldiers killed themselves last year, along with 29 veterans. The Afghanistan death toll was 44, of whom 40 died in action.

Some of the soldiers’ families say the men did not get enough support. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said every suicide was a ‘tragedy.’ The Panorama programme obtained the figure of 21 through a Freedom of Information request to the MoD. The MoD said that rates of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within the serving military were lower than comparative rates in the civilian population.

Seven serving soldiers have been confirmed as having killed themselves last year, and inquests are pending for a further 14 deaths where suicide is suspected. The British government, unlike its American counterpart, does not record the suicide rate among ex-soldiers. But Panorama has independently established that at least 29 veterans took their own lives in 2012. It wrote to every coroner in the country to ask for the names of soldiers and veterans who killed themselves last year and also analysed newspaper reports of coroners’ inquests. 

‘Hell on earth’

One serving soldier who killed himself was L/Sgt Dan Collins, who had fought in Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2009. L/Sgt Collins, a Welsh Guardsman, twice survived being shot and was blown off his feet by a roadside bomb. His friend, L/Cpl Dane Elson, was blown to pieces just yards away from him. L/Sgt Collins’s mother Deana had noticed a difference in her son during his time in Afghanistan. “The phone calls changed and I remember him telling me, ‘Mum, this place is hell on earth and I just want to get out of here,’” she said.

After a six-month tour, L/Sgt Collins came home, returning to his girlfriend Vicky Roach’s house. Miss Roach said: “Obviously then, I started noticing things. Nightmares were the main thing. It was pretty clear he was back there reliving everything.” 

Return to duty

The Army diagnosed L/Sgt Collins with PTSD. After 10 months of intermittent treatment, the Army told L/Sgt Collins he had recovered and would soon be ready to return to duty. Over the next three months, he twice tried to kill himself. He started missing his weekly NHS appointments and told his girlfriend his flashbacks were getting worse.

“I wanted to help him but I didn’t know what to do,” said Miss Roach. “It takes a toll on your relationship and I just asked him to leave.”

On New Year’s Eve in 2011, L/Sgt Collins left her house, put on his Army uniform, and drove into the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire. He recorded a farewell video on his phone and then hanged himself. He was 29. The inquest into his death is still to be held.

Courtesy: BBC – 14 July 2013


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