Veterans of UK’s nuclear experiments suffer double normal rate of psychological stress



The Mirror has campaigned for justice for veterans of Britain’s Cold War radiation experiments since 1983 and now a new study shows the lack of official recognition from the Ministry of Defence of their service and suffering has caused them anxiety and stress

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Veterans and descendants want to meet with the PM

A study has found that nuclear test veterans have double the normal rate of psychological stress – and the only cure could be official government recognition.

Brunel University discovered 34 per cent of those who survived Britain’s Cold War radiation experiments have anxiety, compared to a normal rate of 15 per cent for men of their age.

A survey and interviews by the Centre for Health Effects of Radiological and Chemical Agents found that most of the veterans report becoming anxious in the mid-1980s, when evidence first emerged of cancers, rare blood disorders, miscarriages in wives and birth defects in their children.

George Collett, who led the study, said veterans’ psychological stress included worry about the health of their grandchildren, as well as guilt.

For more than 30 years the Mirror has campaigned for justice for the brave men who took part in Britain’s nuclear weapons tests.

The Ministry of Defence has fought back every step of the way.

We have told countless heartbreaking stories of grieving mums, children with deformities, men aged before their time and widows struggling to hold their families together, all while campaigning for recognition.

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Two years ago we launched an appeal for a medal for the 1,500 survivors.

For the first time we were able to prove some were unwittingly used in experiments.

Our appeal was backed by then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson but his review foundered after he lost his job.

It had only six meetings in two years. They never asked to meet veterans. They never questioned the evidence.

Instead they asked for information from the MoD, which has a track record of denying what its own paperwork later proves.

And as our medal campaign gathered steam, civil servants simultaneously withdrew public documents from the National Archives.

Would anyone working in Whitehall today stay there, if 3 megatons of plutonium exploded south of the river?

The test veterans and their families will never stop fighting. The Mirror will never cease to demand they are heard.

Prime Minister, listen to them. Overturn this disgraceful decision.

“This notion of responsibility was evident in those who had descendants surviving with serious health conditions, but also applied to their wives with health conditions,” said Collett.

“There could be further psychological impact, on top of what might be normally expected, resulting from the veterans’ perceived responsibility and subsequent guilt relating to their family members’ health conditions.”

The study found veterans blamed themselves for their families’ problems, but felt “the powers that be” bore moral responsibility for them.

Some “expressed strong feelings of anger and frustration about the perceived role of authorities”, said researchers.

Veteran associations were found to be “an effective coping system” but the most widely-reported topic among test veterans was the lack of official recognition of their service and subsequent suffering.

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The study states: “The perceived negligence, or deception in some cases, and the perceived reluctance for authorities to recognise such negligence or deception, may further exacerbate any psychological impact.”

The study reported the men felt the solution to their mental stress was formal acknowledgement of the danger and importance of the testing programme, and the appreciation that something like a medal could symbolise.

The Mirror has campaigned for justice for the veterans since 1983, and reported on mounting evidence of deliberate exposure to radiation.

The Ministry of Defence has spent millions fighting court cases and refuses 90 per cent of all war pensions by test veterans.

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Last year a medal review refused a gong on the basis there was not enough “risk and rigour” to service at the tests. The official denials now appear to have taken a toll on the veterans’ mental health.

Earlier this year we called on leading politicians to meet the veterans and “look them in the eye” to hear what had befallen them, and explain why they did not deserve official recognition.

Labour leader Keir Starmer met them in July, and last week Prime Minister Boris Johnsonpromised to do the same.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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