Soldiers ‘laughed at’ and ‘belittled’ by military officials making payouts

Injured soldiers have been “laughed at” and “belittled” by officials involved in awarding payouts from the MoD’s medical compensation scheme.

Serving soldiers and veterans have been left feeling “helpless and deflated” by an “adversarial” system that “lacks humanity,” The Telegraph has been told. 

Critics say the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) “damages people” and leaves them with “absolutely no trust in or respect for the process”.

Introduced in 2005, the AFCS grants lump sums and monthly payments for any injury, illness or death caused by military service.

‘Flawed’ system downplays injuries

However, some seeking help from the scheme have complained of long delays, a lack of help from the MoD and a “flawed” system that seeks at times to downplay injuries in order to minimise financial payouts.

A current serving officer with 26 years of service was subjected to derogatory and insulting remarks about his nationality and intelligence during a consultation with a civilian panel advising the MoD on his AFCS claim.

During a 10-minute recess in the online meeting the legal team forgot to mute their microphones, during which the officer heard them mocking his defence of his claim.

“They laughed and said, well, he is Welsh. He doesn’t understand why he is here. He can’t be that intelligent given he doesn’t know why he’s here,” the officer told The Telegraph.

 The case was described as “kicking a can down the road” with one panel member adding “if he knows what’s best he should withdraw the claim”, the claimant said.

Referring to a previous injury when the officer was blown up in Afghanistan in 2009, one panel member said he “did not look like [he’d] had a blast injury”, a comment that made other board members laugh, the officer said. 

The panel then proceeded to discuss sensitive information relating to other individuals.

‘Derogatory and discriminating’ 

At one point the judge remarked it was a good job the discussion was not recorded.

“Hearing what they had to say about me in a manner that was derogatory and discriminating was unacceptable,” the officer said.

“I have never felt so belittled in my life. I was angry and felt completely let down by the very system designed to support our injured soldiers.

“I was lucky – or unlucky – enough to have heard what a typical panel of professional board members had to say about me in a tribunal.”

He said he feared for other soldiers going through the same process “unaware of what was mentioned during their 10 -minute adjournment”.

The President of the Chambers subsequently wrote to the officer and apologised for the “unfortunate incident” during the adjournment.

In a letter to the officer on Aug 9, seen by The Telegraph, the Chamber President said: “I very much regret what has occurred and apologise for the offence caused to you… It sounds, from what I have been told so far, that we have fallen short today.”

‘Deflated, shocked and appalled’ 

The officer replied that the hearing had left him “deflated, shocked and appalled” and he now had “absolutely no trust in or respect for the process”.

Other claimants allege the system is designed to downplay injuries to minimise the MoD’s liability. 

James Hill, 40, a former Royal Marine, was shot in Afghanistan raiding a Taliban compound.

His injury was initially graded as a leg fracture. In fact, his hip had been shattered by a high-velocity bullet, which led to internal complications and months of treatment.

He only received an adequate financial award after seven years of haggling, during which time he had paid for his own legal advice. 

‘Tried to save a few pennies’ 

“The MoD didn’t do its job and tried to save a few pennies. Luckily, I found someone to fight my corner,” Mr Hill said.

“The process does a lot of damage to people. The confusion and the drama is crazy. There’s no one to reach or talk to; you never knew where your claim was, it just seemed to be stuck on someone’s desk.

“Many youngsters think sod this and give up their claims. The system is flawed.”

With nobody from AFCS offering advice on how to fill out the claim forms, which require specific language to proceed, James said the inevitable delays were “unbelievable”.

He had to return repeatedly to his surgeon to compare the final medical findings of the AFCS with his medical notes.

In the end he had to pay for a solicitor out of his own pocket to see his case through.

“Guys with families and mortgages are waiting ages. Some people with no control or direction find it very hard.

“The process takes so long they can get into financial trouble waiting for the payments to come through.”

Unqualified “medical advisers” commenting on his surgeon’s professional assessments was “so wrong”, he said.

“They lack medical knowledge. Some replies were completely off the mark.”

‘An adversarial process’ 

The head of a veterans’ charity said: “The base assumption is that [AFCS] is an adversarial process: the individual against the system.”

He said AFCS staff seek to “cast reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge that the reason you are broken is not down to your military service”.

“The process dehumanises our veterans and breaks the bond with the thing that has defined their identity for years.

 “The duty of care that we’re all used to in the armed forces is not extended to the AFCS process.”

The way the system deals with veterans “loses people”, he said.

“Determinations are delivered without any thought of the impact the words will have: flat, impersonal, matter-of-fact legalese with no humanity.”

The AFCS is to be reviewed later this year, the first time since 2017, with calls to move it from the MoD to the newly established Office of Veterans Affairs.

‘Too many bad outcomes’ 

Critics say the AFCS is an “underinvested department” of the MoD, with “too many bad outcomes for something not to be systematically wrong”. 

Amanda Marsh, a specialist military injuries lawyer specialising in AFCS claims, said: “We feel that there are plenty of opportunities to improve the AFCS system to enable veterans to receive a fairer service.

“We regularly see problems with claims not being assessed at the correct level, meaning injured armed forces personnel are being under-compensated for their injuries. From the claims we have supported, this is common with PTSD in particular, which can be a devastating issue for people to live with for the rest of their lives.

“We have shared our concerns with the Office for Veterans Affairs and hope that improvements will be made to ensure the people serving our country receive the fairest possible treatment.”

An MoD spokesperson said: “We care deeply about supporting our people throughout their service and beyond. They make remarkable sacrifices in defence of this country and we are committed to providing them with the best possible services.

“Where we fall short of our own standards we will listen to people’s concerns and act however necessary.

“Compensation claims are not decided upon lightly and require careful consideration of many complex factors, including medical histories and types of service, often requiring extensive correspondence with the claimant and multiple organisations.”

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