Facebook has transformed the life of a Gulf War veteran, who had lived in the shed at the bottom of his family home in Coldstream for 15 years.
The oldest of Vince Davidson’s two daughters, Leah, persuaded him in January to try to find some of his old army pals he had served with during the Gulf War in the early 1990s and in Northern Ireland.
Although reluctant, he gave it a go and discovered on the social networking site that many of his comrades were suffering from similar symptoms. Like him, they couldn’t share their suffering with others, many resorting to drugs or alcohol.
“I became a recluse and lived in the shed in the garden for 15 years because I was an embarrassment,” said Vince, who was unable to come to terms with the headaches, gastro-intenstinal problems, memory loss, chronic fatigue, anxiety, aggressive behaviour, and many other symptoms he was suffering from after serving in the Gulf in the early 1990s. They are symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome – an illness the Ministry of Defence refuses to recognise.
Vince was among the 2,000 soldiers who tried, and failed, to persuade the Ministry of Defence to recognise Gulf War Syndrome -a condition recognised by 32 other countries. He later took part in work done by the Gulf War research team.
Vince was in the first detachment of soldiers sent to the Gulf after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. He was told on Christmas Eve he was going to the Middle East and less than a week later was on his way.
Before their departure he says they received a cocktail of injections in one day – a procedure not repeated for later detachments of soldiers. Vince’s medical card shows seven injections were given on that day – including anthrax, and some still unlicensed – but he says that he received far more than that. That evening he became ill and his GP was so concerned about Vince’s condition he contacted the army to see what he had been given.
Out in the Gulf, Vince had to be airlifted out to Saudi Arabia when his symptoms flared up again.
Vince left the army in 1993 and to find, after 20 years, that others were in the same boat was an eureka moment for Vince. There was a reason why he was like he was. It wasn’t his fault.
“It was such a relief,” says Vince, who took part in this year’s Minden Day Parade in Berwick for the first time ever.
Spurred on with an enthusiasm he no longer thought was in him, Vince has organised reunions and one-to-one meetings via Facebook. Working with Ed Swales, secretary of the KOSB Association, he has helped arrange for former soldiers to attend the South West Scotland R&R charity home run by Jennifer Tobin. He and his wife, Fiona, have welcomed veterans into their home and for many it is the first time they have been in company for years.
One of the biggest problems for the veterans was that the nature of their symptoms made it difficult for them to engage with others and asking for help was an impossible step to take.
Vince has become a lynchpin in a Gulf War veterans network, connecting with each other through the internet, and via the National Gulf Veterans Families Association.
Most recently he was in London taking part in a 48-hour vigil to raise awareness of Gulf War Syndrome and the Ministry of Defence’s reluctance to recognise it. For someone who could barely manage to get from the garden shed to the house, travelling down to London has been a major step forward.
A 7,000+ signature petition was also handed in to Downing Street asking for Gulf War Syndrome to be recognised and for the correct medical treatment and care to be made available to those suffering from it.