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British Army ''forcing out sick Gulf war veterans''

KUN0034 4 GEN 0429 KUWAIT /KUNA-OTO1 MIL-DEFENCE-SYNDROME British Army 'forcing out sick Gulf war veterans' LONDON, Dec 1 (KUNA) - The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) forced "hundreds" of victims of Gulf war syndrome to quit the British Army under a system known as manning control to avoid paying them medical pensions, it was reported here Monday. If the soldiers were medically discharged they would have been automatically eligible for a medical pension, but because they were forced to quit, they received nothing, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said. The National Gulf Veterans and Families Association told the paper that at least 400 of its members were forced out under the manning control system rather than being medically discharged. Shaun Rusling, the Association's chairman, said they were considering taking a class action against the MoD. "All these people can prove they should have been medically discharged, but instead were wrongly discharged from the Army, either by manning control or jumping on their own accord before they were pushed", he said. "Because they weren't properly medically discharged they did not have any medical pension. It is a national disgrace, and it has been well hidden until now by the MoD fudging figures", Rusling added. The revelation follows an admission by Britain's Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon that the MoD's figures for the numbers manning controlled were distorted. The policy, first exposed by the case of Corporal Paul Biddis, has seen thousands of soldiers given the choice of being dismissed or switching to a short-term contract in a move designed to cut the numbers serving 22 years. At the end of the short-term contract, the soldier is told that his or her "services are no longer required", allowing the MoD to evade its pension obligations. Soldiers sign on for 22 years with options to leave at three-year points but unless they do something wrong, the British Army can only dispense with their services at the six, nine or 12-year points. If they serve for the full 22 years they receive an immediate pension. This costs the MoD millions of pounds a year, the paper added. The MoD has insisted that only a very small number of soldiers have been "manning controlled". But even before the Gulf war veterans came forward 360 victims were taking legal action against the MoD, the Daily Telegraph concluded. The veterans of the 1991Gulf war to liberate Kuwait have complained of various symptoms including nausea, stomach pains, muscle wasting, respiratory problems and skin diseases. (end) he.bz. KUNA 011428 Dec 03NNNN