The proposed Overseas Operations Bill will have its second reading in Parliament tomorrow – it aims to bring into law, a limitation of five years for UK personnel involved in serious crime abroad to be prosecuted.
It will also prevent UK Armed Forces personnel making any legal claims against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
For lots of complex reasons, it usually takes many years for injured personnel or their bereaved families to bring a claim against the MoD.
I was one of them.
After 14 years’ service, three operational tours to Afghanistan and many more overseas exercises and tours, my body and mental health is now irreversibly damaged.
I am 32-year-old man with hearing loss in both of my ears, including debilitating tinnitus – caused by not being issued hearing protection whilst on tour to Afghanistan in 2007 and subsequent operational tours.
In 2009, I was still not issued the correct hearing protection, even though suitable technology and kit had been made available to the MoD. ‘Unless you were Special Forces, you aren’t getting it.’
After I returned home from these tours, I managed to scrape through hearing tests, and some, I am sure were falsified by medical staff, because they knew the impact it would have on numbers being booted out or making claims.
I was foolishly loyal, not only to my regiment and the men that I served with. I remained stupidly loyal to an employer that did not have any interest in its personnel’s health or wellbeing.
I was a super fit and keen soldier. Of course I didn’t want to lose a job which I loved, due to poor hearing and tinnitus (through no fault of my own), so I kept my mouth shut.
Fast forward to 2014 after a further two tours to Afghanistan, I suffered a back injury during a battalion Physical Training session.
Since that accident, I have had to live with constant pain throughout my body and watch my successful career go down the drain.
Once again, like many, I never put in a claim for this injury, mostly through loyalty, poor mental health and not understanding my rights to do so. I also hoped that I would be taken care of and provided any treatment needed to get me back to full fitness.
Instead, I spent my last years in uniform medically downgraded and unable to promote or do the things that I once used to enjoy.
I went from being one of the fittest men within the regiment, to a shell of a man. Depressed, suffering constant anxiety about the future, severe panic attacks which left me hospitalised and felt generally let down by my employer.
I then decided that the extra toll that it was taking on my already poor mental health wasn’t worth it any longer.
I managed to open my eyes and realise that the loyalty was only going one way. So, I decided to leave the British Army.
After I left the British Army in 2018, I started to seek mental health support for PTSD - it was only after receiving support from the Royal British Legion that I found the courage to take on the MoD for its failings.
Under current laws, I am able to and seeking damages from the MoD.
If this proposed bill was in place now, I would not have been able to make these claims.
The Overseas Operations Bill is nothing more than a disguise for the MoD to prevent those who serve, the ability to bring a claim against their employer.
Junior Defence Minister, Johnny Mercer and his cheerleaders are painting this bill as a ‘big win’ and a way to ‘save personnel from vexatious claims from lawyers.’
However, the reality is, this bill will hurt more civilians, veterans and their families than it will ever help.
Many still serving in the ranks won’t realise the battle they’ll have on their hands if they ever need to take on the government if they ever get injured during an operational tour, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or even worse for their loved ones, dead – through any MoD negligence.
Lots of former UK Armed Forces personnel and veterans have unfortunately resorted to suicide because of how badly they’re being treated by Veterans UK, when it comes to seeking damages from the MoD.
Any decent employer should have the health and wellbeing of its employees, first and foremost.
More importantly, all employers are legally responsible for keeping its people safe.
We know the risks when we choose to wear the country’s uniform, but when it comes to injuries sustained through MoD negligence or injuries caused whilst serving, which then end your career and means you having to suffer with lifelong suffering or pain, the Ministry of Defence should be held to account, just like any other employer.
Why should the MoD have any such dispensation like they’re proposing in this bill?
Even under the current law, it is a real struggle to receive the help, compensation and support that you deserve.
This proposed bill, just gives the MoD the legislation to wipe its hands clean after military personnel have left service.
I’d highly suggest that you read the following briefing note from The Centre For Military Justice