The Armed Forced Compensation scheme leaves much to be desired

The case of paratrooper Ben Parkinson, 23, has recently brought to media attention the issue of soldiers compensation.

Parkinson was blown up by a landmine in Afghanistan, losing both his legs and suffering over 30 other serious injuries. As a result he is likely to need round the clock care for the rest of his life.

He has been awarded £152,150 under the Armed Forces Compensation scheme – a sum which his family described as “an insult”.

This brings out a number of issues relating to this scheme which are not well known outside the Armed Forces.

“It is not really accurate to describe these as compensation claims” says Andrew Welch, Head of Litigation at Stephensons.

“The use of the word compensation suggests that these might be seen as claims made by soldiers jumping on the compensation culture band wagon seeking to claim for suffering injuries while doing the job which they signed up to do.

“In fact the truth is very different and the scheme is simply a way of making sure that our war heroes are not condemned to a life of penury”.

The Armed Forces Compensation scheme was introduced in April 2005 to replace war pensions. It allows members of the Armed Services who suffer illness, injury or death as a result of their service to make claims for financial assistance in the same way as they would previously have been awarded a war pension.

Unlike with civil compensation claims, the claimants do not have to prove any fault on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. If a member of armed services is believed that they have suffered injury as a result of negligence by their employer, the Ministry of Defence, they could still launch a civil compensation claim, but the armed forces compensation scheme is designed to look after them financially without them having to prove such fault.

Payments can take the form of lump sums and guaranteed income payments. The amount of the lump sum depends on the seriousness of the injuries and ranges from £1,050 for the loss of front tooth up to £285,0000 for the loss of both legs and both arms.

But the scheme only takes into account the first few of the most serious injuries and disregards the rest when assessing how much should be awarded. This is the nub of paratrooper Parkinson’s complaint. Although he suffered very many serious injuries, only the first few at the top of the list were taken into account, meaning that he did not receive the maximum lump sum award. However, he was also awarded a guaranteed income payment which should pay him regular amounts in the same way a pension or state benefits would.

Even the top award of £285,000 is not necessarily a generous sum when compared, for example, with the top award that could be made to a civilian under the Criminal Injury Compensation Scheme, of £500,000, although a civilian a victim of crime would not get the guaranteed income payments on top.

The guaranteed income payments are calculated according to age, the level of the injuries and the amount of salary being received by the service personnel member at the time.

Awards can also be made to family members and dependants, again in a similar way to the old style war pensions.

Unfortunately, as a result of the engagement of our armed services in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, this may not be the last we hear of the armed forces compensation scheme.