A former paratrooper who fought in the Falklands War has gone on hunger strike to demand better support for veterans.
Gus Hales, 62, claims the treatment of former servicemen is ‘shocking’ and intends to fast until November 11 – Remembrance Day.
Mr Hales joined the army at the age of 18 in 1976 before serving with the Royal Engineers in the Falkland Islands in 1982 before also serving in Northern Ireland.
He began his strike on Monday October 29 outside charity Combat Stress’ PTSD treatment centre in Audley Court in Newport, Shropshire, where he had been receiving treatment before he claims it was cut off in 2016.
Gus Hales, 62, (pictured) claims the treatment of former servicemen is ‘shocking’ and intends to fast until November 11 – Remembrance Day
Mr Hales hopes his protest will raise awareness of the lack of mental health care for soldiers and admits he was traumatised by his experiences serving his country.
Combat Stress said they were ‘concerned’ by the hunger strike and had offered Gus opportunities to be reassessed for treatment.
Yesterday, General Sir Peter Wall, president of veterans’ charity Combat Stress, pledged to review cases of former service members treated for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Daily Express.
He handed the 62-year-old a letter, apologising for his treatment.
Mr Hales called Sir Wall, who is his former troop commander, ‘brilliant’ and that he would continue his protest to highlight the lack of mental health care for soldiers.
Married father-of-one Gus, who lives in Builth Wells, Wales, said: ‘My work involved finding and clearing minefields. Imagine your worst nightmare, being in a minefield where your next move could blow your leg off while being shelled at the same time.
‘Being put under shell fire is the most terrifying experience.
‘In the Falklands, I had come from Goose Green to Fitzroy on a chopper and the Galahad was coming in.
‘We said to ourselves ‘they’re sitting ducks’, and within a couple of hours the ops room shouted ‘air raid warning red’.
Mr Hales, pictured at his protest yesterday in Shropshire, joined the army at the age of 18 in 1976 before serving with the Royal Engineers in the Falkland Islands in 1982 before also serving in Northern Ireland
‘The next thing you know is there is a huge explosion that echoed around. I was in a machine gun, and suddenly men are being pulled off the Galahad with limbs hanging off and burns.
‘Where it happened there were no medical facilities, blokes were taken into a community centre and were lying on the floor, badly burned and screaming. I was right in the middle of that, and you don’t come out of that experience in the same way you went in.’
Gus, who is a convert to Buddhism, still suffers episodes where he hears the screams of pain and artillery, but said the worst times were in the 10 years after he had left the army.
The former NCO, who reached the rank of sergeant after serving for 13 years, said: ‘It’s not like my imagination, they are echoing through my mind like it’s seared on my memory.
‘Every memory comes with an emotional state. I’m not just seeing this, but experiencing the emotions that come with it – 36 years later and it can still tear me apart.
Crowds gathered to support his cause. He began his strike on Monday October 29 outside charity Combat Stress’ PTSD treatment centre in Audley Court in Newport, Shropshire, where he had been receiving treatment before he claims it was cut off in 2016
‘It’s branded on me like a branding iron on my conscious.
‘I have learned to not proliferate the memory, because it’s the start of the narrative and if I follow the narrative too far it ends in a complete and utter breakdown. I have to say ‘don’t go there’.
‘But that needs training and awareness, and that is what places like this – Combat Stress in Newport – used to provide, and now it’s gone.
‘The Government is quite prepared to pay the bill for the sinking of the ships and the lost aircraft, but they should put some money towards the after care, because at the moment we have empty buildings and veterans on the streets.
‘It is a modern day travesty.
‘When I came back, I was slowly driving myself crazy.
‘The first real incident I remember was I going out to meet some people and having an overwhelming sense of anxiety that something was about to happen. I was restless. I’d never get a good night’s sleep. I’d always be on the edge, ready to go, always with that sense of being ready to explode into a kind of anger.
‘This is how we were primed to go to the Falklands. We did drills and we were taught to cut people’s throats, you don’t come back from that a gentle being.
‘You are brutalised, and you’re left with that afterwards.
‘People talk about flashbacks and for me it would manifest in intense feelings in my body that would literally cripple me.
‘I wasn’t able to move. I had a great melancholy and sadness of it all and that I was involved in it.’
Gus also previously sought help from Combat Stress at a treatment centre called Tyrwhitt House in Surrey where he was given counselling and respite care.
But he claims he was discharged from assistance from the charity without explanation by a welfare officer three years ago, and has yet to receive an explanation as to why.
He alleges he has been denied a discharge medical report.
Gus believes he is not alone and says he has spoken to other veterans with similar stories.
He said: ‘The treatment was very therapeutic, it gave you chance to meet other veterans and get your head together.
‘What’s going to be there for the next wave of veterans? I don’t want them to be the same as me.
‘November 11 is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, where this condition first came light.
‘It was called shell shock then, it’s now called PTSD.
‘You can’t have all these gushing parades for our glorious dead when we are treating people who are alive in this way.
‘This is not political, this is about veterans. It’s about the veterans of the past, the present and those yet to come.
Sue Freeth, chief executive of Combat Stress, said she was concerned about Mr Hales’ decision to go on hunger strike.
She said: ‘Mr Hales’ wellbeing is of paramount importance to us. We’re concerned with his decision to stage a hunger strike, especially in this wintry weather, and are keen to resolve this matter quickly
‘At Mr Hales’ request, our Regional Operations Manager met with him today to discuss his concerns. Unfortunately, he decided not to speak to her. We also offered him the opportunity to meet with one of our clinical team for a mental health assessment, but he also refused this
‘In the last three years, we’ve offered Mr Hales many opportunities to be reassessed for treatment with us if he wished. Sadly he’s not taken any of these offers up. We have offered him today an appointment with our Veteran Peer Support volunteer.
‘Due to demand, we no longer offer open ended treatment but do provide further treatment as needed. Our aim is to help people recover their independence rather than remain dependent on us
‘We really hope Mr Hales will engage with us so we can work with him to resolve his concerns.’