TRAUMATISED veterans who turn to booze to cope with the horrors of war are facing a potential health ‘crisis’.
That’s the stark warning today by a leading armed forces charity following a ground-breaking study in Portsmouth.
Research, conducted at Cosham’s Queen Alexandra Hospital by Combat Stress, revealed scores of veterans were waiting longer to deal with alcohol addiction.
On average veterans battling alcohol abuse were putting off seeking help until their sixties – 11 years later than their civilian counterparts.
The study showed that as the retired military personnel grew older, they were spending more time in hospital, costing the NHS an estimated £669,900.
Now the charity is calling for more to be done to help veterans recognise the underlying reasons behind drinking woes and to seek help earlier.
A spokeswoman for Combat Stress warned hundreds more veterans could be facing a health ‘crisis’ if action wasn’t taken.
She said: ‘Their lives could spiral out of control. Without getting treatment they could go down a very dark path.’
It comes after a retired soldier from Portsmouth revealed how his alcohol addiction had ruined his life.
The 50-year-old, who asked not to be named, said after he left the army in 2006 his life descended into chaos.
He was convicted twice for drink-driving and lost his job as a PCSO with Hampshire Constabulary.
‘Alcohol almost ruined my life and my marriage,’ he said.
‘I knew that I had a problem but I didn’t want to deal with it. I was suffering with PTSD. I just dealt with it by drinking.’
The Bosnian War veteran’s problems stemmed from a fatal training accident when he was 18 – one he still gets flashbacks of.
He added that after receiving treatment at QA his life had turned around and that he has been sober for 20 months. ‘If you’re a veteran, swallow your pride and get help,’ he said.
The study assessed some 2,300 patients using QA’s alcohol specialist nurse service.
Of this figure, 165 people had served in the military.
On average, veterans would spend 11.6 days in hospital for treatment, compared to seven for non-military patients.
The findings, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, said many veterans had ‘a long history’ of alcohol abuse and that there were ‘many barriers’ that prevented them seeking help.
Sue Freeth, Combat Stress chief executive, said the study showed ‘more support is needed’ to ‘increase awareness among veterans’ of the dangers of excessive drinking.
She added additional help was needed to engage them sooner with ‘specialist services’ to make a ‘lasting recovery’.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) educates personnel on the dangers of alcohol misuse and has a dedicated health and well-being strategy in place.
A spokesman added: ‘The majority of veterans make a smooth transition back to civilian life and manage social drinking in moderation, but we and the wider government are committed to ensuring that those who do experience difficulties, get the support they need.’