I have been a personal injury solicitor for 25 years and thought I had come across most circumstances and accidents.
Since 1987, I have acted for military personnel, in incidents from Northern Ireland to Bosnia, Gulf War1 and Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each war is different the legacies they leave, unique.
Without a doubt, the current conflict in Afghanistan is already leaving its own terrible legacy. Roadside bombs or Improvised Explosive Devises manufactured by the Taliban, (they can be made at the rate of one every 15 minutes,) are creating a problem that has not yet been made public.
You cannot begin to understand the horrendous consequences of stepping on a pressure plate and releasing a 10kg bomb underneath you.
The military know that a 5kg bomb, you may probablyl survive; a 10kg bomb you may survive with amputations, a 20kg bomb without a doubt is likely to kill you.
The sheer number of young men and women who are surviving the most traumatic of blast injuries is not publicly known.
The military rehabilitation unit at DMRC Headley Court is packed. These men and women are still in receipt of military pay whilst rehabilitated to the maximum level. In the next two years, in all likelihood, they will receive a medical discharge back into civilian society and fall back on the National Health and benefit system to house and look after them.
Two years ago most would not have survived a double amputation; the survival rate is increased, not only because of young age and individual physical fitness, but because we now have a dedicated medical evacuation helicopter equipped with a trauma team and medical supplies, reaching the injured much quicker, which has increased the survival rate.
In March 2011, I was contacted by Sergeant Richard “Rick” Clement.
He was the third man on a foot patrol in Hellman Province. The two men in front were swinging their army issued vallons (metal detectors) back and forth clearing a pathway for the platoon to walk safely.
The Taliban though, are clever, they watch the British Army to learn their ways and have started to manufacture homemade bombs in plastic containers, so they are not as easily detected by the Vallons. Despite this, the military are told that the metal in the battery to operate the bomb or the pressure plate should be picked up.
In Rick’s case it was not, he stepped on, what was probably a 10kg bomb. He remembers the huge noise and the ground trembling. He couldn’t see as his eyes were temporarily affected in the blast wave from the explosion but he could hear everything.
A voice he recognised, his best friend, in a calm voice was trying to reassure him. He was given morphine and tourniquets were applied.
Rick knew parts of him would be missing, he suspected a leg. He asked, “have my legs gone, don’t lie to me?” The answer back was, “yes mate.”
The British military, dedicated, casualty evacuation helicopter arrived and Rick passed out. He was transported from the time of the blast to the trauma unit at Camp Bastion in 19 minutes.
His father was phoned back in the UK and told that Rick had been in an accident and would not survive. He phoned Ricks fiancÃ©e Leanne and told her the news.
The family did not want Rick to die alone in Afghanistan and asked that he be flown home as soon as possible to die peacefully with his family around him.
The military complied and as soon as he was stable, Rick was flown to the military wing of Sellyoak Hospital in Birmingham. His heart rate was so fast, a lesser man would have had a coronary, but Rick was supremely fit, he woke up and started to recover.
So it was, that I met him at home, his injuries are shocking and like nothing, I have seen before.
He has lost the lower half of his body; he is a trunk in a wheel chair. Along with both legs to the groin, he lost his testicles and the majority of his penis, what is left was fused in the blast to bits of skin. He almost lost his right arm as well, a triple amputation; he probably would not have survived. He has multiple blast wounds, but his face has not been touched, as his fiancÃ© says,” to look at Ricks face, he is the same old Rick.”
He is not bitter, he has loved his army life, asked if he would rather have died, he says no, he is happy, he has his family and fiancÃ© still; they plan to marry this June.
He will obviously though never father children, or enjoy any sexual life again. With no stumps to his legs, it is unlikely that he can ever use prosthesis or stand again. Despite this, he has made the incredibly brave decision to speak out about these injuries.
He knows nothing can be done to help him, but he has asked to campaign for; -
1. The right for a soldier to donate sperm pre deployment. He would like the MOD to pay for this but even if they do not, he feels this option should be made known to soldiers and many would take up this option.
2. For groin protectors to be issued as standard kit. The US soldiers have had them for some time and they cannot be expensive.
3. For changes to be made to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme;-
a) Remove the current cap on awards of Â£570,000. Rick was shown his full award of Â£633,000 then told it was capped at the lesser amount!
b) Remove the sliding, discounted scale for additional injuries. The MOD are aware that soldiers are more likely than not to suffer multiple injuries arising out of the same incident, so they apply a discount after the main injury has been awarded. Its penny pinching at its worst.
c) Remove the word, “compensation,” from the title, its misleading.
The Ministry of Defence are well aware of the injuries inflicted by a roadside bomb. I was shocked even after all these years to see the sheer number of young men and women in DMRC Headley Court with amputated arms and legs. I have recently been contacted by another soldier with the same injuries as Rick’s.
The Ministry of Defence have always published the fatality rates, and we see the deaths reported on the news. What they do not tell you is the numbers of young men and women seriously injured who survive; after all, in the military how do you classify a serious injury?
I have asked Ministerial questions in the house of common and Lords to try to ascertain the numbers.
The responses are;-
“The MOD are unable to provide a gender break down of those permanently medically downgraded.”
“The term “permanent injury” is not used for categorising injuries sustained in the Armed Forces.”
“The numbers of traumatic or surgical amputation includes loss of part of a finger to toe up to the loss of an entire limb.”
When asked how many service personal have been downgraded, the reply was;-
“A medical board could take place many weeks or months after an event or injury and it is not clinically possible in some cases to link an earlier injury to a later problem which may lead to a down grade.”
My fear is we will see a lot more young men and women with blast injuries entering civilian society. There is no negligence claim here and the Criminal Injuries (Overseas) Compensation Scheme will not pay out for an injury caused by Terrorist activities. The only award is the military, Armed Forces Compensation scheme, capped at a maximum Â£577,000. This has to change.