Mr M served with HM Army between 2006 and 2010 and achieved the rank of Lance Corporal. Mr M suffered a Non-freezing Cold Injury (NFCI) whilst on a promotional course which has impacted his everyday life since he has left the Army.
Mr M explains: “At the age of 19 I joined the service and completed my basic training. In 2007, I started my phase two training and attended a promotional course to achieve the rank of Lance Corporal.
At the start of the promotional course, we were given a briefing of what was going to happen. The briefings did not include cold weather injuries. I did not receive any cold weather injury training ahead of this course and I was not issued with any additional kit for this exercise. We were prohibited from purchasing any of our own kit and were only authorised to wear standard issued kit.
The temperature was very cold; During the exercise the only time I was able to try and rewarm was during a section attack briefing, these would take place every two hours or so. The exercise was constantly ongoing; I was really feeling the cold during the first day and started experiencing numbness to my feet. I did not have much time to stop. I recall experiencing numbness during the first evening briefing; I was sitting in the field, static for a long-time receiving lessons on patrolling. Towards the end of the first day as soon as we were told to stop to get some sleep, I started to notice that I was very cold and the numbness in my feet was getting worse.
When getting ready to go to sleep, a STAG rota was being prepared. I slept in a poncho until it was my time to go out on STAG, the conditions were freezing. When it was my time to go out on STAG, I changed my socks. My socks were dry, and I did not notice anything different to my feet, they looked fine. I was out on STAG duty for approximately 4 hours in the early hours of the morning. Again, I was freezing. I was wearing standard issued boots, standard issued gloves, thermal trousers, t shirt, quarter sleeved fleece and a woolly hat. I was lying down in one position and was mostly static. I had to ensure that I made minimal noise and movements, so I did not alert the enemy. I was wearing all the clothing that was practical and possible. I had no way of complaining that I was cold without leaving my position which would have alerted the theoretical enemy. I also felt like complaining about this type of injury was discouraged.
By the time my STAG finished I could not feel my feet, I was completely freezing and uncontrollably shaking. I was trying to bang my feet on the floor to get the feeling back in my feet. I knew my feet were in my boots, but I could not feel them inside of my boots. I took my shoes off as soon as I was off STAG, they were numb and looked strange. They were very white in colour, they looked like glass and my veins were dark purple and prominent. When I tried to walk, I felt like a penguin, because I was struggling so much.
I was seriously concerned about not being able to feel my feet. I called my section commander over to show him my feet. I was encouraged to put my boots back on and to continue with the exercise. I attempted to run. The field I was running in was uneven terrain, I did not feel steady on my feet, it felt dangerous. I was concerned that I was going to seriously injure myself and felt that I had to keep reporting my issues. I told my platoon sergeant but was told to carry on running as they thought I was a ‘drop out’.
I tried to keep running but reported my feet again because I felt that it was dangerous to keep going, this time I was told to get in the back of a vehicle. I was transported to a heated hut. I was instructed by the sergeant to remove my socks and boots; I did not recognise my feet. My feet were inspected by the platoon sergeant and medical staff. They felt my feet and were constantly pushing and rubbing them, I could not feel anything. It was only at this point did they start to take me seriously.
I was put in front of several heaters. I was told that I could be suffering from hypothermia. I was then casevac back to camp.
Whilst back at the camp, one of the medical officers advised that I needed to go to the hospital. When I arrived at the hospital, I was seen straight away. I recall the doctors commenting that I should have been taken immediately to the hospital from the exercise and not back to camp.
After some time in the hospital, I was discharged and told that I should monitor my symptoms. I was told to avoid going outside. When I returned to camp I stayed in my room. I had a hot shower each time I started to feel cold again. I felt groggy and was not feeling myself. My feet were still struggling with numbness.
When I attended the medical centre. I was examined and I was told that I was being referred to Gosport. I was downgraded and put on light duties. I was not allowed to be put on guard or play any sports.
I was told that I sustained a NFCI to my feet. After my injury I was issued with thermal boots, I do not know why these were not issued to me sooner; this may have avoided my injury.
There is a stigma attached to NFCI in service and I experienced this first hand. I would constantly have people commenting on my feet in service. I was called negative names daily due to my injury and the negative names were circulated online with a picture of me which was humiliating.
There was a bullying culture in service and having NFCI meant that I could not escape it. This really got to me, and it was hard to deal with because I knew that this injury was with me for life. I felt like I was different and was zeroed out. I was also treated as though I was in the wrong for getting injured and it was difficult to fight my corner. This was frustrating and impacted my enjoyment of service.
I still suffer from the cold or harsh conditions. I experience aches in my feet as well as a change in colour or my feet turn pale. I am sensitive to the cold and my feet get cold quickly. I make a conscious effort not to involuntary expose myself to the cold.
I have also wanted to climb Everest, but I had to accept that this was not possible due to my injury. I’ve missed out on skiing trips with friends and playing golf and football in the colder months.
I am a father, and it is a concern that as my children grow up my injury may impact playing with them outdoors”.
Mr M got in touch with our specialist military team in January 2019.
“Hugh James’s specialist military team helped me through my claim and gained supportive medical evidence to support my case.
The MoD later conceded breach of duty and limitation, I was awarded £48,000.00 for my NFCI claim.”
Nia-Wyn Evans, Associate in the military claims team, comments on Mr M’s case:
“It is concerning that serving personnel are sustaining preventable injuries at the start of their career, and that these injuries impact some of my clients, like Mr M, for the rest of their lives. After enduring the stigma attached to NFCI, I am glad that we were able to secure a settlement for Mr M to compensate him for his injuries and the impact that the injury has on his life.”