Soldier-turned-MLA Doug Beattie has urged an Army veteran who has gone on hunger strike demanding better treatment for former servicemen to call off his protest.
Former paratrooper Gus Hales, who served in Northern Ireland and the Falklands, has reportedly launched his protest over the “disgraceful” lack of mental health care for ex-soldiers.
He is also understood to be concerned at the prosecutions being brought against soldiers who served during the Troubles, according to the Daily Express.
In a bid to draw attention to his cause, the 62-year-old is refusing to eat while camping outside the charity Combat Stress’s Audley Court treatment centre in Newport, Shropshire.
UUP MLA Mr Beattie said that while the ex-soldier is highlighting “a very important issue”, he urged him to think about his own health and wellbeing.
The Assemblyman for Upper Bann knows only too well about battle scars, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He told the News Letter that he has suffered from mental health issues as a result of his military service, and has previously campaigned for more help for those struggling with poor mental health.
He added: “I think what Mr Hales is doing is highlighting a very important issue which has been long running and the government could do a lot more to address.
“But this is not the way to go about it and he should come off this hunger strike. I would urge his friends and loved ones to talk to him and ask him to stop, as in the end it won’t help.
“He should lobby his own MP or local representatives instead.”
Opening up about his own struggles with mental health, Mr Beattie added: “I have done and seen things in my life that I wish I had not, and they have all led to difficulties in certain areas. Even today I have difficulties in crowded rooms, which is a particular issue for me because of my job as an elected representative, but it is something I have come to terms with.
“But I don’t see myself any differently to someone who has gone through a traumatic birth or been involved in a serious road traffic accident. I think the reality is that many people can suffer mental health crisis in their lives, be they a solider, a nurse, a police officer or a normal member of the public.
“There is a gap in support available to people with mental problems and more must be done to address this.”
Speaking to the Express, Mr Hales branded the treatment of veterans in Britain as “despicable”.
He added: “We put our lives on the line for our country but we have been betrayed and left to our own devices.”
He said he had been receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the Combat Stress charity for many years, but his support was abruptly cut off in 2016 after funding was withdrawn by the NHS.
Mr Hales plans to continue his fast until Remembrance Sunday unless better treatment of veterans is pledged.