A significant number of former soldiers who were based along the border during the Northern "Troubles" later suffered from stress-related problems, according to a report published yesterday.
And harassment by local civilians was blamed as the most common cause of stress among the military.
The study, commissioned by Onet, the organisation for ex-servicemen and women, found that many of them had been prescribed medication as a result of nervous disorders.
The most common symptoms were outlined as irritability and anger, being upset by reminders of the past, estrangement from others, sleep difficulty and being constantly on guard.
The report confirmed the long-held view that the Defence Forces were not prepared for conflict when it erupted in 1969 and that their equipment, training and conditions were not adequate to meet the needs of the border campaign.
It also noted that:
- Soldiers often had to work in cold and damp conditions and were called out at short notice with little rest between patrols.
- Barracks conditions were primitive in the early days.
- Family life was affected by long absences, fatigue and stress.
- Many appeared to be suffering from trauma and stress.
- Poor pay in the early days also added to the stress factor.
- A large number had difficulty in adjusting to life outside the Defence Forces and often depended on the material support of family and friends.
Based on the findings, the report called for an inter-agency approach, involving Onet, the military personnel support services, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Social and Community Affairs, to support former soldiers.
It said the role of the personnel support services should be broadened and resourced to focus on and support the needs of people retiring from the Defence Forces.
The report also suggested introducing a medal for service on the border, which, it said, might go some way towards recognising the contribution made by the border soldiers.
And it advised the Department of Defence to develop a veterans' policy, with research undertaken to examine specific causal links between the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and experience of border duty.