Why some veterans lie about military service


January 19, 2016

veterans stolen trauma_H milroy_E_jones

An academic paper sheds new light on the reasons why some individuals embellish the truth about their military service.

Professor Edgar Jones and Dr Hugh Milroy tackle what has become a controversial issue in “Stolen trauma: why some veterans elaborate their psychological experience of military service” – published (14/01/16) in Defense & Security Analysis.

Its Abstract states, “Recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan generated popular sympathy for service personnel, whilst media focus on PTSD has led the UK public to believe that most veterans have been traumatised by their tours of duty”. The paper goes on to explore how both the press and the third sector are attracted to ‘narratives of distress’ to engage popular interest and sympathy.

Meanwhile the stolen valour phenomenon has become so widespread that an internet veterans vigilante group The Walter Mitty Hunters Club. exists to expose them. There is presently no legal sanction against such deception in the UK, but it in the USA there are penalties for military falsification.

Dr Hugh Milroy, who is CEO of Veterans Aid, said, “This charity is right in the frontline for veterans in crisis and we have been noting this phenomenon for years – fabrication of service histories that don’t chime with reality and assignment of problems to fictitious traumatic events. It’s disturbing, insulting to those whose experiences are genuine and causes us to waste time and money.”

Edgar Jones, Professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “The pressing issue of ‘stolen trauma’, that is the elaboration or falsification of traumatic experiences and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, is important because it has the potential to undermine the validity of genuine cases and dilute scarce resources.

“If the public begin to suspect the veracity of veterans with psychological disorders, it could reduce their willingness to give to military charities, whilst also increasing the stigma attached to mental illness. For any illness to be treated effectively accurate evidence is needed so that the scale and severity of the problem can be assessed and appropriate treatments put in place”.

He added, “It was important to work with Hugh Milroy because his case-work knowledge and close links with the veteran community were invaluable in framing the study and bringing practical understanding of the issue and recommendations for policy.”

The charity’s Honorary Psychiatric Adviser, Professor Ian Palmer, said, “I welcome this paper by Prof Jones and Dr Milroy which sheds light on an interesting and seldom discussed area in relation to veterans, or indeed clinical medical and psychological practice.

“In six years of running the mental health assessment for UK veterans, and over 1,000 hours of face-to-face consultations, I found that in 42% of my cases there was no link to that individual’s military service, and only in 20% was a link unambiguous.

“Sadly, despite evidence to the contrary, there is a societal narrative, promulgated by vested interests utilising misinterpreted or misrepresented research, that military service is bad for your mental health and that PTSD is the signature and most frequent mental disorder in veterans (and serving personnel).”