The effects of combat on soldiers are well known, but the post-conflict stress suffered by private military contractors is an untold story.
A recent report by the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) reveals the high number of ex-military personnel in the UK’s criminal justice system: approximately 12,000 of those on parole and 8,500 of those in prison. These numbers have increased significantly since a government report was conducted on the issue in 2003.
This latest study by NAPO has received wide media coverage. It highlights the immense psychological trauma that comes from warfare and the consequent effects on civilian society when soldiers return home. Most of the offences these individuals have committed relate to alcohol and drug abuse or domestic violence.
Yet none of this considerable attention has mentioned whether Private Military Contractors (PMCs) were included in the study.
This is a significant omission. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved an unprecedented use of private soldiers. One academic puts the ratio of soldiers to contractors in Iraq in 2008 at around 3:2. These PMCs, most of whom are ex-military, have often been as intimately involved in the war as combat soldiers. Although there has been some media coverage of their often highly controversial behaviour, little attention has been given to the psychological effects of warfare on these private contractors. Yet the mental trauma on them is likely to be even greater than it is on military personnel.
Physician Jonathan Shay, an expert on combat trauma, argues that the lack of support mechanisms available for private military contractors increases the likelihood that they will suffer from mental health problems and, consequently, that they will commit criminal offences when they return home.
In a 2004 interview with the Washington Post, Dr Shay said:
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“The amount of potential dynamite we are sowing in our own society by sending people into that situation, that way – it just terrifies me.”