A GULF War veteran living in Sunderland was forced to ask for a crisis food parcel after being left hungry and depressed.
Today, former soldier Graeme MacDonald told how hundreds more military veterans like him on Wearside are being failed by the country they fought for.
The 45-year-old, a Gulf War syndrome sufferer, said: “Being a forces veteran means nothing any more.”
After 12 years of service, Mr MacDonald returned to civvy street with a catalogue of health problems, alone and unaware of any help he was entitled to.
As his physical condition deteriorated so did his mental health, leaving him depressed and isolated.
Had it not been for the intervention of Sunderland Armed Forces Network, Mr MacDonald would have been left without any support.
He said: “I was struggling mentally. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t know how to ask for help.
“I know there are other people out there like me who are falling under the radar, and we need to do something to identify them.”
Mr MacDonald, of Hendon, Sunderland, was just 18 when he signed up for the Army and was first posted to Germany as part of the Royal Corps of Transport regiment.
In early 1991, he was posted to Iraq, where he, though initially reluctant, had vaccinations against nerve agents including anthrax.
He said: “I didn’t want the vaccines, and I objected, but they called me a coward and, in the end, I had them.
“I was the last one out of a squadron of 110 people to have them done.
“About 30 minutes to an hour after I had them, the entire right side of my body went numb. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I was driving at the time, and all my co-ordination went. I had to ask my co-driver to take over.”
Mr MacDonald believes the vaccines went on to affect his entire body, leaving him with a catalogue of health issues including osteo-arthritis in his spine and hands, constant muscle and joint ache, low kidney functions, nodules on both lungs and constant pain.
In 1999, he was forced to leave the Army on health grounds, having also suffered injuries to the left side of his body following a road traffic accident while driving a goods vehicle.
Yet despite these conditions, in November last year, he was deemed fit for work following a medical examination.
He said: “The embitterment I feel over that ruling is hard to explain.
“I felt like they thought I was a scrounger.
“They stopped my employment support allowance, and I didn’t have any money for weeks. It got so bad I had to phone for a crisis food parcel because I hadn’t eaten anything for two days.”
Through a community psychiatric nurse, Mr MacDonald was put in touch with SAFN and he was able to get the support he needed to appeal against the decision and get his employment support allowance reinstated.
He added: “The armed forces network gave me reassurance. They told me I was not a scrounger and that I shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help.
“I feel I was let down on my return to civvy street, simply because the help I needed was not there, and I’m sure there are more out there like me.”
Gulf war syndrome
GULF War syndrome covers a wide spectrum of illnesses and symptoms, ranging from asthma to depression, reported by soldiers serving in the Iraq War of 1990 and 1991.
Symptoms they have reported include nausea, cramps, rashes, short-term memory loss, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and birth defects.
Ailments have been reported by American, Canadian, Australian and British veterans alike, and, in some cases, spouses of veterans have reported similar symptoms.
The mysterious syndrome has sparked debate between veterans’ groups, Government officials and the military over questions of accountability, treatment and compensation.
In 1994, an advisory panel organised by the National Institutes of Health reported that the syndrome represented many illnesses and causes.
A study in 2004 suggested that some veterans might have been sensitive enough to otherwise low levels of poison gases to cause symptoms associated with the syndrome.
Some medical historians have pointed out that syndromes of undiagnosable diseases have occurred after other conflicts, including the Second World War.