Veteran on hunger strike in Shropshire street is issued 'unreserved apology'
The veterans' charity, Combat Stress, has issued an "unreserved apology" to a former paratrooper who is into the eighth day of hunger strike in Newport over failings in care for ex-members of the armed forces.
Combat Stress has apologised for the way Gus Hales was discharged from its care in 2015, and said it will now work with the government to find any other veterans who feel they have been improperly discharged.
Despite the apology, Mr Hales, who served as a Royal Engineer Paratrooper in the Falklands war, has said he will continue his protest outside the Combat Stress premises in Newport, until he sees "concrete" action to address concerns over the treatment of veterans.
It comes after more than 100 people turned out on Sunday to support Mr Hales protest, which is focussed on the issue of veterans' suicides and care for those with mental health issues.
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A spokesman for Combat Stress said: "Mr Hales has raised two very important issues. Regarding the issue of his own discharge from our services, we have unreservedly apologised for the manner in which he was discharged in 2015. We are extremely concerned about Mr Hales’ health due to the current situation and our clinical team is standing by, ready to offer Mr Hales any personal assistance he wishes.
“As a result of Mr Hales discharge, we will undertake a review to identify if any other veterans have been improperly discharged from Combat Stress. We have asked the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and partner military charities to participate and to identify anyone they know who feels they have been discharged improperly. Once we have this information, we will discuss with them how to meet their needs for any further support."
The charity has also said it supports Mr Hales' call for more government resources to support veterans.
The spokesman said: “On the second issue of the plight of veterans with mental health problems, we acknowledge and admire the highly visible way Mr Hales has sought to draw attention to this issue. Over the last decade the number of former servicemen and women seeking help from Combat Stress for the first time has doubled to more than 2,000 each year. We no longer receive substantial income from NHS England following the redistribution of their funding to a new Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service, which is still settling down.
“We fully support the points about the need for more resources to offer better coordinated and funded support to the significant number of veterans who have risked everything in service for their country and our safety.”
Speaking from his small tent, which is pitched outside the Audley Court Combat Stress centre, Mr Hales said he welcomed the commitment from the charity to look at the way care has been handled, but wanted firm assurances over action on help for veterans.
He said: "Obviously if I start to see some concrete commitment from the powers that be that can do something about it then I might consider stepping down but the point is it is coming up to Remembrance Sunday and the government is saying everything is in place but there is a dissonance with the reality which shows it is not.
"I would not be here if it was hunky dory."
He added: "The government is saying out veterans are looked after but the reality is people are being kicked out of veterans' care and I am having to come and sit outside an empty building when there are veterans on the streets."
Mr Hales said that he is committed to continuing his protest, despite the impact of eight days sleeping outside with no food.
He said: "There is more of an urge to want to keep sitting and lying down now. There is slight confusion but generally speaking I am okay. I am resolute to keep going.
"From my point of view it is not about me, it is about that soldier sleeping in the shop door tonight. The one that cannot get help and I am sitting outside a huge 30-bed estate with all the care it used to have and it is empty.
"There is an irony in that there is a little guy outside in a tent."