EXCLUSIVE: Doctors and scientists warn failure to properly treat troops with blast-related trauma is national scandal as many are wrongly diagnosed and at risk of suicide.
By Sean Rayment
8 Aug 2020
Thousands of British soldiers could be suffering from untreated brain injuries after being blown up while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Sunday People can reveal.
Doctors and scientists say the failure to properly treat troops with blast-related traumatic brain injuries is a national scandal.
Many of those suffering have been wrongly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and could now be at risk of suicide and depression.
The Sunday People has also learned that three members of the SAS were forced to pay for their own flight to the United States to get treatment not available in the UK.
The Ministry of Defence’s treatment of traumatic brain injury is based on a 10-day course where patients are taught how to cope with the symptoms.
But in the United States, soldiers have brain scans using new technology and are then treated with hormones which can repair damaged brain tissue.
One UK trauma psychotherapist who works with wounded troops believes the failure to properly treat brain damage has led to a surge in military suicides.
US defence chiefs believe that up to 20 per cent of all troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan could have a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
America’s Defence and Veterans Brain Injury Centre has reported that more than 400,000 troops have suffered it since 2000.
By comparison, the MoD says that only 737 troops have been diagnosed with TBI after serving in the same wars.
Around 180,000 British troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 17 years and many did multiple tours.
Even a conservative estimate based on the US percentage shows that thousands of serving and former troops could have TBI and need help.
Experts claim the disparity in figures is because the British military does not screen for TBI after combat.
Psychotherapist Mandy Bostwick said: “There is plenty of evidence from internationally renowned scientists showing that blast TBI is now the signature injury of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“There is a pathway for diagnosis and treatment which works, but the Ministry of Defence believes more research needs to be done.
“In the meantime, veterans are killing themselves in ever increasing numbers because they are wrongly diagnosed.”
A brain injury summit held at the Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College in London in January was attended by international experts and members of the armed forces medical services.
A draft report seen by the Sunday People concluded there is an “urgent operational need to address the issues arising out of large numbers of military personnel and veterans with symptoms of blast traumatic brain injuries”.
But the MoD has been calling for more research since 2007 when the problem first surfaced in the US.
Tory MP Dr Liam Fox, who at the time was shadow defence secretary, said then that the failure by the MoD to properly treat TBI victims was a dereliction of duty.
He said: “Why should US troops be getting better care than British troops?”
Since 2007, thousands of US soldiers have been treated for the condition and are now able to lead relatively normal lives.
Treatment involves stimulating the brain with a magnetic field, then mapping it with a MEG scanner, followed by a course of endocrine hormones.
In the UK, this would cost around £1,500 to £2,000 per patient – a similar amount to that in the US.
Dr Mark Gordon, who runs the Millennium Health Centres in Los Angeles, has treated US Navy Seal special forces and attended the brain injury summit in the UK in January.
He gave three SAS members and a Royal Marine a grant worth £2,500 so they could get his treatment.
He said: “As far as I am aware, they are all doing really well. We have a 75 per cent success rate so far. Most people see a significant improvement within 90 days of treatment.
“We have treated 348 military, from foot soldiers to a rear admiral, and they have returned to full activities.”
Recent advances in science have shown that a TBI caused by a blast is different to that caused by concussion. Symptoms of blast TBI include tiredness, dizziness, aggression, memory loss, sleeplessness and problems concentrating.
The condition can also lead to physical child and domestic abuse.
Scientists claim that many sufferers end up in prison. In the UK, there are believed to be at least 3,000 veterans in jail but some estimates suggest the number is far higher. So far this year, there have been 49 self-inflicted deaths among veterans and serving personnel, and more than 200 since 2017.
Former Royal Marine Jeff Williams of Veterans United Against Suicide said: “This is an absolute scandal. Why are British troops not getting the same treatment as their US comrades? This is all down to money.”
One leading UK brain specialist, who asked not to be named, said he was appalled by the MoD’s attitude.
Members of the Commons defence select committee are also concerned and are set to hear evidence from Ms Bostwick next month.
She said: “Until we have accurate assessment, diagnosis and treatment with support for families, thousands suffering a blast injury to the brain will continue to be misdiagnosed and channelled into mental health services, leaving them at high risk of suicide.”
The MoD said: “We have a dedicated treatment programme for traumatic brain injuries and are leading research into the diagnosis, management and rehabilitation of patients.”