Probably. If you have suffered more than a minor Non-Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI) during your military service, there is a strong likelihood that you will be medically downgraded and, in due course, medically discharged.
The MOD has known for more than 35 years that those of Afro-Caribbean ethnicity are at high risk of developing symptoms and, whilst the Army has tried to educate its troops about the known risk of an NFCI, in the last decade more than 500 negligence claims have been brought against the MOD for NFCIs. On average, around 50 a year and most, but not all, are suffered by troops recruited traditionally from Commonwealth countries.
NFCI is less common amongst UK born troops and unsurprisingly, I have never come across an NFCI sufferer from either the Royal Marines or Parachute Regiment. I expect this is because of their unique approach to the training of their elite fighting men and the camaraderie which flourishes. I hasten to add that there are other ‘elite’
troops (*dons helmet for incoming flak).
Why can I claim?
Our troops will face the harshest of conditions during training. There is very good reason for this. They are training for battle. It’s often said that ‘if it isn’t raining, it isn’t training’
. Myself and my former army colleagues will agree that military exercises must mimic battle conditions as far as reasonably possible.
However, our Commanders and NCOs know that some of the men under their command have a genetic disposition to NFCIs and simple precautions need to be taken to reduce the risk of them developing the condition whilst out in the field. If you fail to monitor the health of the men under your command, you will miss the warning signs and your men won’t even get to the start line. Common problems stem from:
NFCI – Is this a real ‘injury’?
- Failing to adequately train troops in the dangers of NFCI
- Failing to conduct regular foot inspections
- Failing to enforce sock changes (sounds common sense, but clearly its not happening)
- Failing to assess/review/monitor weather conditions – more often than not Commanders are reluctant to act during severe (hot or cold) weather for fear of reprimand
- Failing to provide adequate shelter
- Failing to listen to complaints from their troops – albeit few actually complain. ‘Man up!’ is the common response
Ask that question of someone who lives his life with the condition. With an NFCI, the nerves in the hands and feet may have been permanently damaged by prolonged, negligent exposure, to extreme cold and wet climatic conditions. This then results in an increased sensitivity to cold. You will experience debilitating pain, every hour, of every day; more so in the kind of wintry weather that we are seeing across the UK this week.
A sufferer will be prescribed daily medication to help ward off the pain and discomfort and they must keep wrapped up warm, use footbaths, have the heating turned up and avoid repeat exposures to the cold and wet.
For the vast majority, an NFCI is a career ending injury because they are no longer able to soldier. For a young man who has migrated to the UK to serve, this is a devastating outcome, and many become depressed and suffer mental disorders because of their pain and loss of career.
What can I claim?
The MOD already make small lump sum awards of around £6,000 - £10,800 through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme but unfortunately, that level of award does not attract a Guaranteed Income Payment (GIP). It follows that if you are medically discharged for an NFCI, your personal injury claim will be worth considerably more than someone who isn’t discharged.
If a Claimant can prove that their commanders have negligently caused them to develop an NFCI, then the MOD will eventually pay damages, although not without a fight. In my experience, MOD claims handlers tend to delay and defend these cases until eventually, and not before great cost has been incurred and the injured Claimant frustrated, their lawyers agree to sit down with us and a negotiated settlement is reached. Damages payments to injured troops upwards of £250,000 are becoming the norm. (See the recent results of our Freedom of Information Act request 'Military Non-Freezing Cold Injury claims are costing £Millions'
How long do I have to bring a claim?
For an AFCS claim, you have 7 years to send your application to Veterans UK, but you have only 3 years
to bring a personal injury claim and that period starts when you acquired the knowledge that your injuries were sufficiently serious and were caused by the negligence of your commanders. If you fail to settle a claim or, commence court proceedings within that 3-year period, you risk losing the opportunity to claim at all. Don’t leave it until you have been discharged to seek legal advice.
Call Alma Law today on 01264 355477 - We are specialists
Grant is a former British Army Commando. He has specialised in military claims for almost two decades and he is a renowned expert in this complex area.
Postscript 4th March 2018:
A clinical study of 42 NFCI sufferers, funded by grants from the MOD and the Wellcome Trust and published in the October 2017 edition of ‘Brain – A Journal of Neurology’
found the following:
‘NFCI is a career-limiting or career-ending injury as 35.8% of participants were medically discharged from the military at the time of assessment due to the functional limitations imposed by their injury. A further 23.8% have been discharged since assessment, or have a confirmed discharge date. Of those participants still serving in the military all were downgraded, whereby restrictions were implemented such that exposure to cold environments could be limited. Necessarily this limits deployability, potentially leading to administrative discharge. This also severely limits prospects of promotion. For all medically discharged participants, options for employment were restricted by the need to avoid further cold exposure. Of the veterans, 53.3% remained unemployed, all citing the need to work in warm environments as a factor impairing employability.’