Ex-RAF high flier’s personal battle with Gulf War syndrome

Mike Sutherland today
Mike Sutherland today
Have your say

RAF veteran Mike Sutherland was once a “party animal”.

But at 49, he has been forced to quit his £55,000 a year job, has arthritis and his life is plagued by depression and chronic fatigue.

Mike receives his Gulf War Medal from Group Captain John Ford at RAF Lossiemouth

Mike receives his Gulf War Medal from Group Captain John Ford at RAF Lossiemouth

Mr Sutherland says he is just one of thousands of military veterans whose lives have been stolen by Gulf War Syndrome, and today he spoke out to raise awareness of the condition.

He is part of a group of veterans attempting to force the Ministry of Defence to release documents that could explain what caused the condition and give the support he says the Government has a moral responsibility to provide.

“None of us are chasing this for money, we just want recognition and help,” said Mr Sutherland, from the home in Drum Brae he shares with wife Fiona and 18-year-old daughter Faye.

Mr Sutherland joined the RAF in 1980, and was deployed to the first Gulf War to serve as an electronic warfare expert in Bahrain. In January 1991 he was given 11 injections to immunise him against possible biological weapon attacks from Saddam Hussein’s forces.

Mr Sutherland believes the sudden raft of injections, which included vaccinations against anthrax, plague and whooping cough, alongside the administration of anti-nerve agent pills, caused the deterioration in his mental and physical health.

“I’ve rationalised it so I don’t get bitter and twisted – I have to believe they gave the vaccines for the best of reasons,” he said. “But they didn’t understand the implications of what they were doing and now they should stand up and take responsibility.”

Mr Sutherland said his wife noticed a change in his behaviour when he returned from the war zone. “Before I had interests, energy and could get things done,” he said. “But I began to suffer from chronic fatigue. I also developed memory loss, concentration issues, anger management problems.

“I started wanting to isolate myself. I had been typical air force – a party animal – then I found I couldn’t go to weddings.”

After leaving the armed forces, Mr Sutherland moved into IT and in 1997 took a job with an international firm, but his health continued to falter until in 2001 he was diagnosed with depression. “I contacted the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association and they said it sounded like Gulf War Syndrome,” he said.

He left the IT firm and moved into private consultancy, but that, too, became too much, and he left the £55,000 per year job last year.

Mr Sutherland, whose application for a war pension was turned down, talks with other veterans on the internet. Last week the group gained a report, following a Freedom of Information Act request, detailing the cocktail of bio-warfare vaccines that were given to soldiers and confirming that soldiers were split into groups to test the outcomes.

“We all feel angry, not so much at what was done but the fact that they’re in denial and won’t support us,” he says. “All we can do is keep fighting.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The MOD sponsored a research programme into the possible health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets which were given to troops at the time of the 1990/1991 Gulf conflict to protect them against the threat of biological and chemical warfare.

“The overwhelming evidence from the programme is that the combination of vaccines and tablets that were offered to UK Forces at the time of the 1990/1991 Gulf conflict would not have had adverse health effects.”

• Maria Rusling, General manager of the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association

Mike’s story sounds fairly typical. With Gulf War Syndrome you haven’t got one thing. It affects a lot of systems in the body. They get bowel problems, memory loss, skin conditions, some have got cancer – the list goes on.

There were issues around the whole system of giving vaccines in the first Gulf War. Whooping cough, which they used to boost the potency of anthrax vaccines, was not an adult vaccination. A number of veterans from that conflict go on about a cover-up and it was, really – it was a mess.

It’s been 21 years and people want and need answers. They should be a bit more open but instead veterans are having to jump through hoops. They still feel they’re being fobbed off.