‘We WILL help soldiers like Nathan Hunt

The former head of the British Army has secured a top-level meeting to discuss a 24-hour helpline for battle-scarred troops like tragic Lincoln soldier Nathan Hunt. Thirty-nine-year-old Warrant Officer Hunt was found dead at his home in Westbrooke Road on January 2 after concerns were raised for his welfare.

The dad-of-one had served with Prince Harry in Afghanistan in 2008 and was awarded a Mention in Dispatches for his courage in locating roadside bombs during secret missions to ambush the enemy in Helmand Province. But he faced a battle with his mental health and did not get the care he needed. Former Army chief General Lord Dannatt told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, February 6 that his “heart goes out” to Nathan’s parents Derek and Maria and that serving personnel deserve a better deal.

Still Serving

He said: “I had a long conversation yesterday with Armed Forces Minister Tobias Ellwood and he has agreed that we have got to do better and he and I are going to meet to work out exactly what we need to do. “We are not talking about veterans, people who have left the Army, we are talking about people who are still serving who are certainly not provided for with a 24/7 helpline. “The time you’re going to suffer is during the small hours, in the evenings and at weekends.” The Government reportedly refuses to spend £2m on a State-funded helpline because it might only be used by less than 50 people a year. Help is currently available to troops via the NHS and from charities like Combat Stress.

Prevent Further Tragedy

But Nathan’s parents, from Birchwood, say a fully-funded specialist helpline could help prevent further tragedy. Derek, 66, who served in the Royal Corps of Transport, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think the system in place at the moment is not good enough to deal with the soldiers that are coming back from these war zones. “I would like to see a 24/7 helpline that is publicly funded. I have no issues with charities but they do rely on donations. “What we need is something that is properly publicly funded so that these soldiers have somewhere to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. “Nathan saved lives throughout his service – we want him to save lives in his death. If we can achieve that he has not died in vain.”

Culture Change

According to MOD figures, 325 servicemen and women suffering from mental illness took their lives between 1997 and 2016 and most were veterans of Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. General Lord Dannatt has accused the Government of failing mentally ill troops and calls on the armed forces to bring in a complete culture change over post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. In a recent article for The Sunday People, General Lord Dannatt said: “­Service ­personnel who need help outside working hours are advised to contact their nearest A&E or see the Combat Stress Helpline – unacceptable. “I raised this with Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood. The MoD’s response was it would be £2million to establish a service that might be used by less than 50 people annually. “I don’t accept that ­argument. Surely the lives of up to 50 people annually are worth spending £2million?”

Duty of Care

Nathan’s parents also spoke of the urgent need for proper support for veterans during an interview with BBC Radio Lincolnshire. Dad Derek said: “The culture has to change. The Government and the Army have to realise that like any other employer they have a duty of care and that is not just ticking boxes to satisfy people.” He said soldiers returning from Afghanistan were shown a video “saying you might feel a bit down but you will get over it”. He added: “Then the junior officer said that’s another box ticked – that’s the sort of attitude that needs to change.”

System not There

Derek said he felt the biggest problem was that respite periods between tours were getting shorter and shorter due to more conflicts coupled with a background of cuts. He said: “The stress that these guys are suffering sometimes is not being addressed because the system is not there to address it. “That’s the problem and people like Nathan who went out and did the improvised explosive device [roadside bombs] stuff. “Their problems are compacted because they have to go and search for these things before the troops come in behind them. “That should be recognised in the Army today.”

Derek added that he is totally convinced that Nathan was a casualty of war who tragically kept his feelings to himself. He said: “He did not want to upset us as parents. He did not want to worry us.” He urged parents to try to learn how to spot signs of PTSD and also wanted the stigma removed from mental illness. Derek said: “We did not have any signs but there may be signs that could be picked up on. “No parent should have to bury their son before themselves. To go through all those conflicts only to die alone in a house is just unbelievable – I cannot fathom it.”

Adored

Former North Kesteven School pupil Nathan joined the Royal Engineers before he turned 16 and was due to retire from the Army this September. He served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Iraq, as well as serving three or four tours of Afghanistan. He bought his house in Lincoln 18 months ago and was looking into a career with BT’s broadband infrastructure firm Openreach. His mum Maria told BBC Radio Lincolnshire that he was adored by the Household Cavalry – the unit he had been attached to for several years. She said: “We knew Nathan was not sleeping. He was home on leave but we never thought things were so bad. “He just never spoke about it. We knew he was bomb disposal but he never spoke about it. “He never mentioned the nitty-gritty. We have learned more from the papers that he ever spoke about at home.”

Tidal Wave

Hundreds of people paid their respects at Nathan’s funeral service at Lincoln Cathedral. Maria said she had not realised just how much her son was loved. She said there was a “tidal wave” of mental health issues affecting many soldiers who joined in the mid-1990s. She said: “I would say 85 percent of the British Army is suffering.” Asked what she thought was stopped people coming forward, Maria said that wrongly there was a stigma attached to mental illness. She said: “They only reason they don’t come forward is that they are frightened of it blocking their careers.”

A MOD spokesman said: “We take the mental health of our armed forces very seriously and work tirelessly to ensure our troops and veterans receive the care they deserve. “We are committed to tackling the stigma of mental illness. “Personnel already have 24-hour access to effective services they need in an emergency.” Daily Mail Article   Lincolnshire Live