A PICTURESQUE Scottish hospital is being used by the US military as a base to treat drug and alcohol addicted troops who have fought in Iraq, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The US department of defence is sending up to 40 damaged servicemen and women a year – including marines, army and airforce personnel – to Castle Craig rehabilitation clinic to undergo intensive treatment.

The remote centre, which sits in 50 acres of scenic grounds in West Linton, Peeblesshire, has become so highly regarded, it has been classed as a “preferred provider” by military chiefs who are flying in addicts from American bases across Europe.

<>The controversial clinic is best known for treating Scots alcohol and heroin addicts who have been referred there by the NHS. It also takes in private patients, such as the artist Peter Howson, who enrolled at the clinic in 2000 to overcome alcoholism.

But it has now emerged that the centre has landed a huge contract to treat addicts from the military who have turned to drink and drugs after suffering harrowing ordeals in Iraq. The hospital also treats close relatives of military personnel who become addicts.

It follows news that the famous Priory Clinic in Surrey had won a contract with the Ministry of Defence to treat British soldiers for depression.

Peter McCann, chairman of Castle Craig, said: “We have been getting [US troops] in dribs and drabs, but there have been more coming over recently. I think they are being sent to all the corners of Iraq and are falling to pieces when they get back to base. ”

McCann said troops were coming to the hospital from US bases in the UK, Germany and Turkey to undergo four weeks of intensive counselling and therapy alongside some of the most desperate Scottish drug addicts and alcoholics. While the Scots’ treatment is paid for by the NHS and local authorities, the bill for the US troops’ £1400-a-week sessions is picked up by the American Department of Defence’s Tricare insurance.

McCann added: “We can have up to about four at any one time, but there’s a continuous stream of them coming in. There has been a step up in the numbers since Iraq. We see about 40 a year.

McCann’s comments give an insight into the terrible toll the Iraq war is taking on soldiers. There have been more than 30 recorded suicides among US troops in Iraq, a rate nearly one-third higher than the army’s historical average.

A major study published last year also found that up to 17% of surveyed Iraq veterans suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety or major depression.

While alcohol consumption is prohibited in Iraq , it is believed many are turning to drink and drugs when they return from their tour of duty. Soldiers suffering psychological disorders are known to have high rates of alcohol and drug abuse and suicide.

Therapy sessions at Castle Craig are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme, whereby addicts are forced to turn themselves over to God, or a higher power, to overcome their problems.

While the length of treatment at the clinic normally lasts six weeks, the US troops stay for only 28 days. In that time they complete the first five steps, which include “admitting their wrongs” in confidence to another person.

Tom Bruce, deputy lead therapist at Castle Craig who treats the US soldiers, said: “ Most are young men in their early 20s. They would go back to their base and continue with the 12-step programme.”

Professor Ian Robbins, the director of the Traumatic Stress Service at St George’s Hospital in London and a former army officer, said rates of trauma and addiction were high among serving and retired personnel.

He said: “A quarter of people are likely to have some form of problem, mostly PTSD, in relation to warfare. It depends on the intensity of experience, previous experiences and their level of resilience.”

Clive Fairweather, a former SAS colonel and appeals co-ordinator for Combat Stress, a charity that treats ex-service personnel for psychological and addiction problems, said: “Combat, stress and alcohol are no strangers. Forces personnel cost a lot to train so everything must be done within reason to help them get back on the road again .”

The US Department of Defence would not comment.

09 January 2005

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