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'Nothing has changed': Falklands veteran Gus Hales starts new hunger strike in Newport over care concerns

By Mat Growcott | Newport | News | Published:

Falklands veteran Gus Hales is back on hunger strike in Newport because he says care for ex-service personnel is getting even worse.

Gus Hales has returned to continue his hunger strike in Newport

Today Mr Hales called on Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer to meet him to discuss the problems around high suicide rates and a lack of care for those who served in the armed forces.

But he said it was not an issue for one political party, and that whoever wins the General Election in December will need to step up and act as soon as possible.

Last year the former Royal Engineer Paratrooper held a hunger strike outside Audley Court, which is charity Combat Stress's base in Shropshire.

Thousands of people followed his story on social media, and his strike became the topic of national headlines.

He was taken to hospital during his last effort, but says he has no concerns about returning to his hunger strike.

"Nothing has changed in 12 months," he said. "If anything it has got worse.

"There is a woeful lack of care for veterans. I'm sat outside Combat Stress which is closed when there are 13,000 homeless veterans. It's bizarre.

"It is a disgrace that there are 13,000 homeless veterans and so far this year the suicide rate is equal to last year. It could surpass it. That is a travesty. People are crying out for help.

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"I'm not seeing any intention to address this issue. Combat Stress are doing the work that Government has devolved to them – my employer was the Ministry of Defence. The duty of care is the MoD as far as I'm concerned."

More than 24 hours into his latest hunger strike, Mr Hales said he is feeling fine.

"I used to be a paratrooper," he said. "I can handle it.

Location

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"This one is going on until Sunday and then I might move to another location, which is a secret at the moment.

"I can handle seven days without any detrimental damage. Last year really did knock me for six. It put me into a weak zone, which I still haven't really recovered from."

Mr Hales called on the government to look into buying Combat Stress and reopening it.

"If the new Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer is serious about solving this problem, he needs to do something concrete," he said.

"Maybe come and meet veterans like me and talk to them about the problem.

"We've got this treatment centre that's closed. If Combat Stress can't afford it, why can't the government step in and buy it? What would this building cost? In budgeting terms, it could be £3 million – that's peanuts for the Government.

"This is not a political protest, this is about better care for people. The government of the day is the Conservatives, but we could have a new government. It will be their new problem."

Mr Hales said the people of Newport had welcomed him back to the town.

"They've been fantastic," he said. "The mayor, Councillor Peter Scott, has been to see me. Local people who I met last year are pleased to see me.

"Last year there were a few undesirables around. I was a bit naive."

Mat Growcott

By Mat Growcott
Reporter - @MGrowcott_Star

Shropshire Star reporter

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