Northern Ireland

Captain Doug Beattie accuses government of 'abandoning' Northern Ireland military veterans

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Media captionCaptain Doug Beattie, who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, says the government is failing to implement the Military Covenant

A highly decorated soldier has accused the government of abandoning Northern Ireland military veterans who need help for serious physical and mental injuries.

Captain Doug Beattie was awarded the Military Cross for bravery.

This was while serving with the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) in Afghanistan.

He said the government was failing to implement the Military Covenant, a promise to look after members of the armed forces and their families.

Speaking in a BBC NI Spotlight programme to be broadcast on Tuesday night, he said military veterans in Northern Ireland do not receive the same kind of priority treatment as those in other parts of the UK.

"I have missed the birth of children, I have missed the death of family members, all for the service of my country, and now I feel completely let down," he said.

"It's simple, we want equality, we want parity. If I'm willing to sacrifice my life for my country in exactly the same way as somebody from England, Scotland and Wales, then I want recognition for that."

The Covenant was enshrined in law in 2011 and states that the nation has a "moral obligation" to members of the army, navy and airforce and their families.

It pledges support for military veterans and their families, and says those with serious physical and mental injuries should be given special consideration in some cases.

In England and the rest of Great Britain, that means veterans are entitled to some form of priority medical treatment. But that does not happen in Northern Ireland.

The number of veterans in Northern Ireland is huge.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) claims there could be up to 120,000, including more than 60,000 who served with the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and home service battalions of the RIR.

Image caption Nikki Cunningham is a former army medic who completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan

Critics, and even the MoD, agree that the greatest shortfall in treatment in Northern Ireland is for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

One of those suffering from PTSD is Nikki Cunningham, a 27-year-old former army medic who completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan before being medically discharged last year.

She has told Spotlight she is angry at the way she was treated, and remains haunted by her experiences in Afghanistan.

"It never leaves you," she said. "The smell of burnt flesh never leaves your senses, it's always there.

"You go to sleep, close your eyes, the images are there, you wake up, they are there. The slightest little noise triggers the thought, an image, an incident, and you're back to where you were, back on tour.

"The army broke me, and I haven't really found that I've had the sufficient help that I needed."

Robert McCartney is a former member of the RIR who served in the Falklands and Kenya as well as Northern Ireland.

'Disgusting'

He was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after leaving the army and now runs a charity called Beyond the Battlefield, based in Newtownards, County Down.

It helps veterans who need medical treatment and provides assistance with a range of other issues.

"I actually believe that the paramilitaries and the prisoners groups and everyone else who was part of this conflict in Northern Ireland are being treated better by their people than soldiers are being treated by the MoD and the government, and that's disgusting," he said.

The Ministry of Defence rejects those claims.

It insists veterans in Northern Ireland are able to access the aftercare service they need, and the Military Covenant is being implemented there.

You can see the full story on Spotlight on Tuesday night at 22:45 BST on BBC One Northern Ireland.