We’ve had to fight for everything...

Ben Parkinson in  Iraq 2003.
Ben Parkinson in Iraq 2003.
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Every day for months, she had sat by the bedside of her unconscious soldier son, willing him to prove the doctors wrong.

His dreadful wounds, inflicted by a land mine just days before he was due to finish his tour of duty and fly home, were slowly mending.

Ben Parkinson gym rehabilitation

Ben Parkinson gym rehabilitation

Ben had suffered 37 injuries but the extent of the damage to his brain was still unknown.

Doctors had warned mother of three Diane Dernie her son would probably have no meaningful brain function, but she refused to believe them.

After all, he had come this far. And no other soldier had endured so many injuries and lived.

She thought the family’s prayers had been answered when, months into his recovery, he began to open his eyes. “But when I looked into them, it was so scary; there was absolutely nothing there,” she recalls.

The Prince of Wales  attended The Lord Mayor's Big Curry Lunch. His Royal Highness met Army officials, soldiers and supporters of ABF The Soldiers Charity. Also during the reception HRH met Lance Bomardier Ben Parkinson, and his parents Andrew and Diane Dernie, who have been helped by the charity. Picture: Arthur Edwards.

The Prince of Wales attended The Lord Mayor's Big Curry Lunch. His Royal Highness met Army officials, soldiers and supporters of ABF The Soldiers Charity. Also during the reception HRH met Lance Bomardier Ben Parkinson, and his parents Andrew and Diane Dernie, who have been helped by the charity. Picture: Arthur Edwards.

Still, she clung to hope. And one day, when a nurse asked him to look over towards his mother, Diane watched his eyes move towards hers and for a moment, saw in them a glimpse of recognition.

Elated, she turned to the doctors. But they delivered a crushing blow. It meant nothing, they said. He could not have looked into her eyes – because they believed Ben was also blind.

For the first time since an Army official had arrived on her doorstep to tell her Ben had been severely injured on September 12 2006, Diane broke down and her thoughts turned to suicide.

She admits: “It was too much – the last blow. I thought there was nothing for Ben to carry on for.

Former Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson with his mum Diane Dernie at home in Bessacarr.

Former Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson with his mum Diane Dernie at home in Bessacarr.

“I decided I would end it for him, then take my own life because it wasn’t worth anything without him in it.”

Her heart in pieces, Diane rang husband Andy, Ben’s step-father, and blurted out what she was going to do. He raced from their home in Doncaster to her side at Selly Oak Hospital and with the help of a nursing sister, talked her out of taking her life and Ben’s.

“They persuaded me to hang on in there and to keep believing what I had seen,” she says.

The next day, a sympathetic occupational therapist tested Ben’s vision with a succession of picture cards. Ben could not only see, he was responding.

Ben Parkinson in  Iraq 2003.

Ben Parkinson in Iraq 2003.

His recovery had begun. He began to move his head and thumb to signal yes or no. And on New Year’s Eve, with his bed surrounded by friends from his regiment, Diane, 53, saw Ben smile for the first time.

Ben was in hospital care for a year and then spent almost two years at DMRC Headingley Court, the Army’s rehabilitation unit in Surrey.

In March 2009, he finally came home to the bungalow bought and modified after family had to chip in to top up his initial compensation pay-out of £152,000. Of that, just £33,000 was awarded for the loss of his legs – and £114,000 for his brain injury.

His home-coming was a huge relief - but so hard-won, the family have been left filled with anger at what they feel was a wall of resistance from the MoD.

“We felt the MoD wanted him out of the system. They did absolutely everything they could to force us to put him into a home because traditionally that was what had happened to severely injured servicemen,” says Diane, 53.

“They wanted us to accept Ben would never walk or talk, move on with our lives and visit him once a week. We would not let that happen.”

It seems Ben is being made a casualty of his own survival.

Says Diane: “While modern medicine can now save the lives of horrifically injured servicemen, military after-care has not caught up. The Government makes sweeping statements about looking after men maimed for life through duty, but what we have been through proves no provision has been made for their futures.

“We look back in anger. A hugely difficult time was made so much harder because we had to fight for everything.”

From December 2007, at the family’s insistence, Ben began going home for short spells. “The Army would not arrange carers for him or sometimes even provide his transportation,” says Diane. “He needed 24-hour care; we had to leave our jobs and do it ourselves. We ended up doing that for two and a half years.”

She even had to fight for Ben’s right to sit in a wheelchair. Doctors at the military rehab unit had refused to carry out surgery on Ben’s broken spine.

Says Diane: “He couldn’t use a wheelchair because he was literally bent double. We fought for him to be seen at another hospital where the specialist told us he would gladly operate.”

Diane states Headingley court tried to stop the operation as Ben was gowning up. And mid-way through the seven-hour procedure, they discharged him from their care. The discharge meant Diane was free to take Ben home – but to what?

Ten days after his operation, the man whose body had been ruined in the course of duty was being ferried up the M1 by his family - and in great pain.

It was his family the burden of care fell on.

“We had to try and cope with just a district nurse calling in to dress his wounds. Doncaster Health Authority have been wonderful but there was a waiting list. It took nine months to get things into place.

“Disability allowance; mobility allowance – we got none of it without a strenuous fight. We lived off our savings and were down to our last pennies, wondering how to pay the next bill, when Doncaster Council got us authorised as Ben’s paid carers.”

Every tear of frustration and rage shed has been worth it. Ben has proven his IQ was completely unaffected by the brain injury and is learning to talk again.

He can already walk 100 yards on crutches and hi-tech legs and since coming home in March 2009, he has worked tirelessy for servicemen’s charities.

Diane has watched him jump out of planes and canoe round lakes to help others.

“My heart bursts with pride at how he has coped and how strong in mind and body he is. He always says: It could have been worse. I could have died, or it could have been one of my mates it had happened to.

“The irony is, the Army made him that way.

“We are at a loss to understand why the Army isn’t there for boys like him.

“The Army should be immensely proud and helping every one of them instead of pushing them away and as good as burying them.”

Ben and his family are still battling

Five years on, this remarkable family is still battling.

In addition to his struggle for health and mobility, Ben is now locked in a battle to stay in the regiment he loves - and for the additional financial compensation he should now be entitled to under a 2010 review of the pay-out system, which grants a cash sum per single injury.

A month ago, a letter from the Army Medical Services Board arrived at Ben’s Bawtry Road, Bessacarr home, informing him he is being forced out of the Army by December.

The Lance Bombardier, who served with 7 Para, Royal Horse Artillery, is being recommended for medical discharge – a move the MoD and even the Prime Minister pledged would never happen to a man who had almost given his life in his country’s fight against terrorism.

Two days after, a second letter arrived telling Ben the Government were capping his full pay-out at £570,000, even though under an assessment process, he should be paid the maximum of £1,090,000.

Ben has lodged an appeal against his medical discharge and has petitioned David Cameron and Secretary of State for Defence Minister Liam Fox, stating he believes other servicemen have been paid compensation above the Government cap. He wants the cap removed for all severely injured servicemen.

“We are disgusted and outraged about both issues,” says Diane. “Ben still sees himself as a soldier; he is deeply proud of being in the Army and would never have asked to leave.

“And while ever he is in the Forces, his rehabilitation treatment, which involves 37 hours a week of physiotherapy, gym work and private speech therapy, is paid for by the Ministry of Defence.”

If they force him out, he will be reliant on the NHS and could lose the majority of his treatment.

Under the Military Covenant, the nation has a duty of care to service personnel. The MoD has said: ‘Every case is assessed individually. No one will leave the Army until they have reached a point in their recovery where it is right for them to leave.’

But, asks Diane, who decides when that point has been reached?

“Ben is certainly not at that stage. The MoD want to be rid of the hassle and cost of looking after him.”

Samaritans helpline

Sheffield Samaritans are on hand to help anyone feeling suicidal.

Call on freephone 08457 909090 or 0114 2767277, email joe@samaritans.org or call in to the Samaritans’ offices at 272 Queens Road, Sheffield S2 4DL – open 10am-10pm.