FORMER soldiers are being let down by the NHS, a leading fundraiser has claimed.
Bob Mortimer, chairman of the British Legion in South and West Yorkshire, believes the indebted health service is struggling to cope with veterans - both of past wars and current conflicts.
He said: "Hospital trusts are grossly in debt but demand is getting greater. There are 5,000 troops who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan needing treatment to say nothing of the many pensioners who fought in the Second World War."
Mr Mortimer said that referrals of ex-military people had risen 23.5% in the past four months because of the wars in the Middle East and South Asia.
He said: "The health service is struggling and many ex-service personnel are not getting the care they are entitled to as a result.
"Many hospitals don't realise that people with a war wound pension are supposed to get priority treatment."
And Mr Mortimer, who served in the RAF in the 1950s, said the legion could not raise enough money to satisfy demand. He said: "The money from the poppy appeal is not enough.
"People need to realise that ex-service personnel need help all year round."
The British Legion spends £75m annually helping former service personnel.
But a Department of Health spokeswoman defended the service given to both former and current soldiers.
She said: "Fast track care is available at six Ministry of Defence Hospital Units (MDHU) in England for regular military personnel with certain orthopaedic injuries - like a knee or ankle injury - where their condition prevents them from reaching full military fitness.
"The process for fast tracking is agreed as part of the contractual agreement between the MoD and the NHS Trust hosting the MDHU and its impact on waiting lists for civilian patients should be minimal.
"Outside of the fast-tracking of this small number of military patients, the NHS and the MoD work together to ensure all patients both military and civilian are treated according to need."