"It is scandalous" that troubled British veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are waiting up to 18 months for NHS mental health treatment, a charity said yesterday.
More than 2,100 troops have suffered psychiatric problems after returning from Iraq since 2003, new Ministry of Defence figures reveal.
Services mental health charity Combat Stress said more resources were needed to help the thousands of ex-servicemen and women who will need treatment in the coming years. The charity, which runs three treatment centres for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), warned it was in danger of being overwhelmed.
Serving military personnel, including reservists, can normally get rapid treatment through the defence medical services. But after they leave the forces they must use the NHS, although they are entitled to priority treatment for "disabling conditions" resulting from their service.
On the NHS it normally takes 18 months to get a first appointment to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, Combat Stress said.
Robert Marsh, a spokesman for the charity, said: "For the general population I think that's pretty unacceptable - let alone if, for example, you are a reservist and you have put your career on hold to serve your country. I think it's pretty scandalous that they have to wait so long."
The MoD said 2,123 of the military personnel who served in Iraq between 2003 and September 2006 have been treated for mental health conditions - about 2% of the total.
Of these 328 suffered from PTSD, 227 from other neurotic disorders and 373 from mood disorders. A further 188 showed signs of psychoactive substance misuse, such as abuse of drugs, alcohol and anti-depressants.
Combat Stress currently has about 160 Iraq veterans on its books and the number is increasing all the time.
The Iraq war appears to have traumatised so many servicemen and women because it is unpopular, asymmetric - the enemy is unknown - and drawn-out.
In the year ending March 2006 Combat Stress saw a 26% increase in the number of new veterans - 948 people - seeking help.
Mr Marsh said: "What we are seeing at the moment is probably the bow wave of what we're going to see in the future. We are beginning to creak and bulge at the seams."
Meanwhile, an investigation has been launched into the case of wounded Iraq veteran Jamie Cooper.
He was reportedly forced to spend a night lying in his own faeces after staff at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital, where injured service personnel are treated, let his colostomy bag overflow.
Defence Secretary Des Browne said that troops injured in conflict should receive the best possible treatment.
He said: "Where there are individual cases that fall short of the very high standards that I and others demand, then we need to address these and I will address them. They are unacceptable."
The MoD said it took the issue of mental health problems "extremely seriously" and gave Combat Stress around £2.8m a year for treatment courses.