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FORMER soldiers are preparing to spend Christmas camped outside Britain’s “leading charity for veteran’s mental health” in protest at the organisation’s cuts to their treatment.
The charity Combat Stress has been under fire since October, when army veteran Gus Hales launched a hunger strike outside their Audley Court treatment centre in Newport, Shropshire.
Mr Hales, the 62-year-old son of a Nuneaton coalminer, suffers from PTSD. He began protesting after Combat Stress discharged him on his doorstep.
His hunger strike lasted 18 days and received widespread support. Since then he has set up a field therapy unit, dubbed “Camp Spartagus,” on open land behind Audley Court.
His growing team of volunteers use army-style olive green tents to provide meals and shelter for veterans. They are cooking for up to 200 people at the camp, and more than a dozen homeless veterans have stayed the night in the tents.
Combat Stress has repeatedly called police to complain about the protest camp, Mr Hales said. According to accounts filed at Companies House, last year six executives from Combat Stress were paid over £60,000, including one who earned more than £130,000.
Instead of ex-service personnel relying on charities like Combat Stress, Mr Hales is calling for the government to set up a department for veterans’ affairs that would be separate to the Ministry of Defence.
“The air marshals, admirals and generals in the MoD [Ministry of Defence] want more planes, ships and tanks,” Hales told the Morning Star. “Veterans are at the bottom of their list and we are left with the scraps, after procurement and operations.”
“Tobias Ellwood, the veterans minister, sits inside the MoD and just praises the charities. But we can see that Combat Stress is failing at every level.”
Townspeople in Newport have rallied around Mr Hales’s protest. Whenever the camp runs low on supplies, a local radio station broadcasts a call out, and people quickly donate food, firewood and petrol.
Despite the freezing conditions, Mr Hales intends to stay camped out over Christmas and will serve food to “put a smile on people’s faces”. A carol service will also be held at the camp this weekend.
Combat Stress did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment.
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