Patrick Allen of Hodge Jones Allen announced last week that “no cause had been established for Gulf veterans’ illness”. “In the end we are left with this extraordinary situation where we there are many ill veterans with unexplained illness,” Allen told LawZone yesterday. “And when there is an unexplained illness it’s hard to argue that it was negligence that caused that illness but that is the line the international scientific consensus has come up with.” His firm took the case on six years ago when lawyers had already spent two years looking at claims. “It has been difficult on establishing causation, negligence as well as the law,” the former president of the Association of the Personal Injury Lawyers acknowledged.
Patrick Allen, together with Stephen Irwin QC, Bar Council chairman who was also involved in the action, have called upon the government to institute a public review of issues relating to Gulf War illness as well as calling on ministers to make ex-gratia payments to supplement “the very modest war pensions currently payable”. “The government has frequently referred to the debt of honour which it owes to veterans in the services,” they said. “We believe that this debt of honour should be acknowledged by special treatment for war veterans.”
Why did it take so long for the legal team to come to the view? “There has been a huge research program going on around the world and a lot of papers have come out over the last 18 months and I believe that an early decision would have been slammed as premature,” Allen commented.
According to Allen, “a worldwide consensus” has emerged among scientific experts that the symptoms reported by veterans are “a significant health effect that is similar to symptoms reported by veterans of earlier conflicts” and “indistinguishable from the symptoms commonly reported by people not involved in the Gulf War and not in the armed forces”. They “do not represent a Gulf War syndrome and do not have an identifiable cause”, he added.
Shaun Rusling, chairman of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, was reported to say that his group had “no confidence” in the management of the case by Hodge Jones & Allen. “We fully believe that there is a case to answer by the MOD and recent court cases by our members confirm this,” he said. “Any decision to withdraw funding will be appealed.”
More than 2,000 veterans have so far been granted a war pension by the War Pensions Agency. For a pension, it is not necessary to prove fault and the burden of proof is on the Ministry to show that illness is not associated with service.
“I do think the veterans deserve a better deal as they have put their lives on the line and the benefits they get from war pensions are only very modest,” Allen said. “A lot of them can’t work and their illness will affect them for the rest of their lives. They are supposed to receive priority treatment by the National Health Service but nobody seems to know that and it doesn’t make any practical difference.”