A record number of wounded war veterans have been denied disability benefits in the past year after undergoing tests carried out by the Government’s controversial assessment company. 

Hundreds of injured ex-soldiers are being declared fit for work by Atos Healthcare in spite of physical and mental injuries they suffered in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last night, the Royal British Legion (RBL) announced a 72 per cent annual rise in former soldiers having their applications to receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) turned down. Several hundred wounded personnel were denied the benefit on the basis of physical examinations conducted by Atos, according to the RBL.

The company is contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to assess benefits claimants’ capability to work.

In one case, Lance Corporal Mark Dryden, 35 – a former member of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who, after an explosion in Iraq, lost his right arm and the full use of his left – was asked by Atos assessors if he was left or right-handed. He is now taking his case against the DWP to a benefits tribunal.

That case, and others, have led to accusations that Atos Healthcare is under intense pressure to produce assessments that enable the Government to reject benefits claims.

Servicemen suffering from the mental scars of combat also complain that they have been turned down for disability benefits.

Many injured troops have also described having to undergo demeaning physical tests by the firm.

Last night, Peter Poole, the Strategic Director of Combat Stress, a charity serving ex-soldiers suffering from conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, told The Mail on Sunday that, when questioned, wounded troops tended to play down the discomfort they were feeling because to make a fuss went against the military ethos.

He said this led to Atos assessors marking down military candidates.

He added: ‘Atos needs to use its resources to the best effect to ensure soldiers receive the best attention. Many of the doctors and psychologists used by Atos might not have treated troops before.’

Atos is in the process of assessing two million claimants for ESA, which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008.

An Atos spokesman said: ‘A physical examination is a small part of the WCA process and people are only asked to do what they can and what is comfortable, with their specific consent.’

A DWP spokesman added: ‘The percentage of people getting long-term unconditional support has more than doubled in two years, but everyone has the right to appeal if they disagree with the outcome of their assessment.’
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