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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Other Questions. - Personal Injury Cases.

Seán Barrett


23 Mr. Barrett asked the Minister for Defence the way in which he will approach the 21 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder taken against the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9259/99]

Personal injury cases are taken on the basis that negligence is alleged against the defendants. Each claim against my Department is dealt with on its own merits in the light of legal advice received. With reference to post-traumatic stress disorder, there are now 19 cases outstanding.

The Defence Forces have for some time operated a stress management and PTSD programme, the purpose of which is to educate personnel in stress recognition and to provide support for personnel so that they can deal with trauma and stressful situations in an appropriate and timely manner. This programme is implemented through the Defence Forces psychologist, the personnel support service and the chaplaincy service.

As far as I can establish, no Department is signed up to what is known as an insurance link service. In other words, if someone puts in a claim there is no authority with which a Department can check if he or she has submitted a previous claim. In these cases the trauma must first be established, but if that is the case, is the Minister satisfied that it is caused by incidents involving the Defence Forces? What is his view of the suggestion that all Departments should sign up to an insurance link service to check if claimants have made previous claims?

Deputy Timmins has touched on a central point. He may have read in today's paper of other concerns regarding the compensation culture which is developing. It is not easy to determine where something was caused. Some 19 claims have been made against the Defence Forces and each one will be dealt with individually.

We are learning more about post-traumatic stress. At one time it was thought that the syndrome only resulted from major conflicts such as the Vietnam war but we now take a more enlightened approach to the condition. We are happy to develop earlier intervention mechanisms and better support services. It is proving extremely difficult to guarantee that only genuine cases come to the fore because of the way some cases are being dealt with in the courts.

How many of the 19 cases are related to overseas service and how many to service within the country? What is the breakdown, by rank, of the applicants?

I do not have that information. I will obtain it and send it to the Deputy. I am aware of a number of cases where stress is alleged to have taken place while the soldier was serving with the UN but I do not know the proportion.

Given that our commitment to peacekeeping will increase and our troops will be in increasingly dangerous situations, is the Minister concerned that there is no scheme for dealing with claims taken against the Defence Forces? We have had the experience of the deafness compensation claims, we now have 21 cases of post traumatic stress disorder and there is no reason this number will not increase dramatically. Should we not do what other armies have done and put a scheme in place to deal with these cases, for example, by means of a pension scheme?

All the options mentioned by the Deputy were considered in the context of the deafness claims. The cost of providing pensions would have been considerably higher than the cost of dealing with the cases in the way that we did. There is a range of options for which we must prepare. We must examine the essential nature of the support services which are provided and recognise that there is such an ailment as post traumatic stress disorder, that it can be caused by being in extremely difficult circumstances and that each one of us can react differently to it. Quite a number of people are engaged in other stressful activities and must deal with serious accidents, for example. We must find an appropriate way to deal with the matter in general.

In answer to an earlier question, I said that the experience of seeing how the out of court environment works might help us to approach the cases in a way which would be more satisfactory to both sides. We will explore those options when we have more experience of how the out-of-court environment works.

Will the Minister indicate how many of these applicants have also made compensation claims for deafness?

I do not have that specific information. It is not unusual, unfortunately, to have multiple claims from individuals, but I do not wish to make that inference in the case of these claims. One person has as many as five claims against the Defence Forces.