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Exclusive Veterans’ mental health charity poised to clear itself of wrongdoing

Hundreds of traumatised ex-troops have raised complaints about Combat Stress's refusal to treat them

A LEADING mental health charity for British war veterans is set to clear itself of any wrongdoing, despite complaints from hundreds of traumatised ex-troops about its refusal to treat them.

Combat Stress is preparing to announce the result of a six-month probe, which the charity’s chief executive Sue Freeth will claim “did not find any systemic issue with the discharge of veterans,” according to a leaked letter seen by the Star.

The development will anger war veterans across the country and comes as many are calling for an independent investigation into the charity’s conduct.

Combat Stress launched the in-house review last year in a bid to defuse an embarrassing protest outside one of its treatment centres at Audley Court in Shropshire.

Former client and Falklands war veteran Gus Hales had gone on hunger strike after he was discharged by a Combat Stress staffer who had no medical training — in breach of healthcare rules.

Mr Hales, an ex-sergeant, relied on the charity to treat him for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be a long-term condition.

He says he was shocked when it suddenly stopped treating him and found dozens of other war veterans had also been cut loose by Combat Stress.

His hunger strike piled public pressure on Combat Stress until the charity’s boss begged him to “stand down,” citing concerns about his “health and well being.”

Ms Freeth promised to investigate what had gone wrong and said: “If our internal review reveals irregularities beyond your case then that could trigger an independent inquiry.”

In another letter, the charity told Mr Hales: “Combat Stress acknowledges that it made mistakes regarding your discharge and we have repeatedly apologised for that and are now conducting an internal review.”

However, the embattled charity rejected Mr Hales’s demand for a public inquiry and now appears poised to claim the problem was limited to just his case.

In its latest letter to Mr Hales, seen by the Star, Ms Freeth said: “Our internal review involved examining the case records of a sample of individual veterans who were discharged in 2015 to ensure that they were discharged appropriately.

“We have examined both electronic and paper records and did not find any systemic issue with the discharge of veterans that were audited.

“The internal review report is now in its final drafting stage and will be received by our directors and then our trustees in May 2019.”

Mr Hales says the charity’s probe was a “travesty” and told the Star: “What started as an in-house review has now turned into little more than a sample survey.

“We have a comprehensive list of veterans who made complaints — one of the guys on our list was phoned by Combat Stress which told him they were doing this ‘survey.’

“He expressed his disapproval at being kicked out with no further care, but I guess Combat Stress has once again ignored him and the plight of many veterans to reach its convenient conclusion.”

Mr Hales vowed the battle would continue.

He said: “We also have a report regarding a National Health Service team visit to Combat Stress in 2016, where Sue Freeth CEO states they did not have correct procedures in place and they have now changed their systems.

“This forms part of a wider report and that has been sent to the Care Quality Commission.”

The Star contacted Combat Stress for comment and received the same response as the letter it had sent to Mr Hales.

The CQC were not available to comment at the time of going to press.

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