Veterans

Gulf War: Veterans Urge Those Reliving Horrors Of Conflict To Seek Help

Help for Heroes says its workload has increased due to COVID-19, as veterans are "cooped up" and reflecting on their military career.

Veterans of the First Gulf War have urged those struggling with the horrors of conflict 30 years later to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The First Gulf War ended on 28 February 1991, following the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, as allied forces forced Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops to retreat from Kuwait.

Forty-seven British personnel were among the fatalities, however, the effects of the seven-month war were felt by many of those who served.

Veterans told the PA news agency they battled with depression, divorce, harrowing flashbacks and suicide attempts after the Gulf War, but refused to seek help because it was not the "manly thing to do" at the time.

Graham Hudspith, a petty officer now living in Coventry, said "nobody ever spoke about it".

"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," he added.

Another ex-serviceman, Kevin Muldoon, jumped from the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde six years after returning from serving with the Royal Corps of Transport in the Gulf.

The Gulf War ended in February 1991 following the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, as allied forces made Suddam Hussein's Iraqi troops retreat from Kuwait (Picture: MOD).

He was caught by a suicide prevention device.

"Quite a few people I know have taken their own life," he said. "I just thought: 'I’m not putting my family through that anymore'.

"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."

Veteran Kevin Gray, who served in the Royal Artillery at the time of the Gulf War, said he had watched the invasion of Kuwait on BFBS before putting himself forward for service in the conflict.

After the Iraqis had retreated, Mr Gray was asked to visit the last position his unit had hit.

"I think, what I saw there, I think maybe that could have been a trigger – I've learned this over time," he told Forces News, three decades on.

"At the time we didn't feel anything, it was just like, 'Wow...I've just done that'."

Six months later, during Northern Ireland deployment, Mr Grey "started having these nightmares".

"I got back to Germany and the nightmares started getting more severe. So I started, obviously, falling out with people – I was reported by my roommate because of the nightmares."

"I rejoined an artillery regiment, which is where I wanted to be – on the guns.

"We went on exercise and I hadn't realised, it was the first time firing the actual guns since the Gulf War.

"I just started shaking and I couldn't stop," he said, adding that psychotherapy and medical discharge with PTSD had followed, with nowhere to turn for support at the time.

Now an ambassador for Help for Heroes, Mr Gray wants to make sure Gulf War veterans still suffering are aware of the increased support available.

"I'm bringing about awareness and hopefully lads will stick their hands up and say, 'Me too'.'"

Forty-seven British personnel died in the Gulf War, however the effects of the seven-month war are still felt by many who served (Picture: MOD).

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Duane Fletcher, now a Help for Heroes clinician, said many service personnel continue to bottle up their grief from the Gulf War.

However, he said the last 12 months have seen an increase in veterans coming forward and seeking help.

Mr Muldoon, who was treated by Mr Fletcher in a British field hospital during the Gulf War, drew on his own experience of ignoring his problems before turning his life around by getting in touch with Help for Heroes two years ago.

"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."

Mr Hudspith said the memories of conflict are "like grief – they never go away", and added that seeking professional help from support services is invaluable.

And Mr Gray, who was medically discharged with PTSD in 1995, said: "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."

Cover image: Royal Engineers 1st Armoured Division Saudi Arabia Training Gulf War (Picture: PA).