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Gulf War veterans speak out about PTSD

Graham Hudspith
Graham Hudspith Image credit: .shropshirestar.com

On February 28 1991 thousands of soldiers returned for the Gulf War to UK shores, but three decades on the veterans are still caught in a battle between themselves and their mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen these heroes confined to their four walls, with little else to do memories of being on their own front lines without NHS workers to turn to have been racing round their heads causing severe cases of PTSD.

War charity Help for Heroes report it has seen a rise of ex-servicemen and women reaching out for help throughout the continuing series of lockdowns.

Speaking to PA news veterans told harrowing stories on how they are suffering depression, distressing flashbacks and suicidal thoughts, for years they have refused to reach out for support because at the time it was not the “manly thing to do”.

Graham Hudspith (pictured above) from Coventy, 53, was a petty officer, he said: “Nobody ever spoke about it, people didn’t even talk about the Falklands.

“I know people who (ended their lives), two weeks ago. It is still happening today.

“Some of them can’t get the thoughts, the pictures of what they saw, out of their heads.”

Ex-serviceman Kevin Muldoon tried to take his life six years ago jumping off the Erskine Bridge into the River Clyde, fortunately he was saved by a suicide prevention device.

Now 64 and living in Glasgow he remembers the nightmares he suffered linked to PTSD and the friend he has lost.

Muldoon said: “Quite a few people I know have taken their own life. I just thought I’m not putting my family through that any more.

“You relive it, you’re actually there, you smell it, you can feel it, you can touch it, you can taste it, and that came back again. It cost me my marriage.”

Another veteran waking up from nightmares is Kevin Gray, he has restless nights shortly returning from the Gulf with the Royal Artillery.

The 50-year-old, from Fleetwood in Lancashire, was discharged from service in 1995 with PTSD, he said: “The time while I was out there doing the job I didn’t feel it actually affected me, but it later did.

“I started having quite severe nightmares. There were burning hands sticking out in the sand – those were the type of nightmares.

“They are images that are burned into your psyche. You can’t just turn them off, they’re there all the time.”

Talking about reaching out for support 30 years on Gray added: “Go and stick your hand up and say ‘I need help’. That is one of the bravest things to do, in my eyes.

“I lived for 20 years thinking I was useless. Now I’m a Help for Heroes ambassador.

“It’s given me a purpose in life again, I feel like somebody again.”

Help for Heroes clinician Lieutenant Colonel Duane Fletcher from Bedale, North Yorkshire says many ex-service soldiers are starting to open up about mental illness after 30 years bottling it in.

The retired 56-year-old said: “Thirty years ago there was a stigma that people were being weak if they had mental health problems.

“It’s now more open in society and people appreciate you can have mental health issues from a variety of things.

“Thirty years ago, you were weak (sharing feelings). People wrapped it up and kept it locked away instead of dealing with it.”

One of the people Fletcher treated during the Gulf War was Muldoon, the ex-patient has now spoken to Help for Heroes for the mental scars which can be traced back to the battlefield.

Muldoon said: “I never bothered with help, people were phoning me, I was drunk, not interested,” he said.

“I’ve been that man that sat in my house, got the booze delivered, and you just go down and down and down.

“But one phone call to Help for Heroes and the floodgates opened. It’s been nothing but good news. It’s been a revelation.”

The Gulf War was the biggest deployment of the UK Armed Forces since the Second World War.