Army Hearing Loss Claims

 

Sir, - I wish to address some of the issues raised by Kevin Myers in An Irishman's Diary of November 15th and 22nd.

Soldiers have grown accustomed over the years to his outdated attitude and insulting opinion. Let me educate him in some of the facts of which he is ignorant.

Standing orders were issued seven times between 1952 and 1984 to all serving officers to ensure that soldiers under command wore adequate ear protection. These orders were issued because of the obvious risk of hearing loss when being exposed to gunfire.

These orders were not carried out.

Prior to 1987 no safety procedures were in place on Army firing ranges to ensure soldiers wore ear-protection equipment.

Some improvised methods were used: for example, cotton wool and Vaseline. Soldiers who bought their own hearing protection and went to the trouble to paint it in Army green were barred from using it because it was not a part of officially issued Army kit.

Serving soldiers have to undergo compulsory testing and audiograms by the military authorities.

The military authorities informed soldiers that they had hearing loss and issued restrictions.

Some soldiers were prohibited from firing weapons, from going overseas and from driving.

Some soldiers with civilian qualifications cannot attain civilian employment in their field because of the negligence.

Because of negligence and resulting hearing damage the personal sacrifice of time and expense to gain civilian qualifications was wasted.

£25,000, or a year-and-ahalf's wages, is little compensation for the loss of one of the senses, the wiping out of promotion prospects, the end of a career or profession or the prospect of a life of unemployment.

Surely the questions for a journalist of the supposed calibre of Mr Myers should be:

If orders were issued seven times between 1952 and 1984 for ear protection to be worn, was the money allocated?

If so, was the money diverted to somewhere else, and why and who made the decision?

Was the equipment purchased and stored without being issued to soldiers?

Why or how did this happen and who was responsible?

Mr Myers does not seem to recognise that soldiers are citizens of the State in uniform. The State as an employer has a duty of care to all of its employees, the same as any employer to an employee. If the State is negligent, a soldier, like any other citizen, is entitled to seek compensation. The courts will decide the merits of each case and will judge accordingly.

To say that ex-soldiers, veterans of any war, had no hearing loss is a rather sweeping statement. However, it is possible that there was no avenue of compensation for any person injured in the workplace in bygone decades. Persons injured through the negligence of their employer were probably left to survive on their own devices. Is Mr Myers suggesting we should go back to those days, or perhaps we could apply compensations and health and safety legislation to a chosen few and exempt others altogether?

In his article of November 22nd, he is of the opinion that soldiers with hearing loss should no longer be "permitted to remain as guardians of the State". I would suggest that it is the fear of this very attitude which has prompted many compensation claims. Soldiers, having been sent for compulsory audiograms, were told they had hearing loss and had restrictions placed on them. Seeing their ex-colleagues refused civilian employment and faced with the possibility of their cases becoming statute barred they were left in limbo with a very uncertain future.

I would also suggest that in today's climate of six-figure settlements for libel cases etc., £25,000, or one-and-a-half years' wages, is little compensation for a loss or part loss of one of the senses and the knock-on effects thereof.

Finally, would Mr Myers suggest that soldiers, along with relinquishing their rights to compensation, should also relinquish their rights to a family and a home?

Perhaps, to follow through on Mr Myers's opinions, along with damaging soldiers' hearing we should cut their tongues out as well - depending on rank of course, because some should be allowed to speak. Or to hell with it, let's go all the way and have all recruits "fixed" as well. Or, hold on, maybe we should build a gas chamber for retired soldiers, especially if they had injuries due to negligence of the State.

Perhaps Mr Myers really feels that all citizens are equal, but some are more equal than others. - Yours, etc.,

PDFORRA, Capel Street, Dublin 1.