In the event of conflict, military doctors are the first on the battlefield and risk their lives to save their brother-in-arms. Yet some are ready to do anything today to leave the army, sometimes to the point of being discharged for psychiatric disorders. Their words are rare, the 20 Hour Eye met some of these soldiers.
When we start working on military doctors, unsurprisingly, we hit a wall. The messages we received bear witness to this. Examples: “I was summoned by my superiors to remind me of my duty of reserve,” one reports. Another: “I only have blows to take and nothing to gain ” or “Thank you nonetheless for your interest in our cause.”
After weeks of discussion, a young military surgeon agrees to break the silence. Despite her passion for the field, she developed burnout. When she goes on a mission, it’s for three months. In Chad and Niger, external operations are continuing. “The load is extreme” she says “we see wounded soldiers. When we come back, we are put back to work and we don’t have time to realize whether things are going well or not. We are forced to work and we have no right to complain “After a 10-month sick leave signed by a psychiatrist, she ended up leaving the army exhausted by management that she considered violent.
The list of departures: 217 including 44 for medical reasons
She’s not the only one to have slammed the door. According to a list we obtained, dozens of the most qualified military doctors have left the army. The Ministry of Defense confirms: last year 217 doctors left the army, including 44 discharged for medical reasons, some with work stoppages of convenience.
Under condition of anonymity, a senior officer speaks frankly about a health service running out of steam. “ The whole system is falling apart » he said. “Soon there will no longer be an Army Health Service, when you go on a mission, you risk leaving simply with a first aid kit »
The Army Health Service, the eternal sacrifice
In 10 years, as a result of budget reductions, the Health Service has lost 10% of its troops. According to the Senate, it is “the eternal sacrifice (…) close to a breaking point”. Military hospitals even have a quarter less staff. In Metz and Lyon, operating theaters, emergencies, services have closed one after the other to the point, according to a report from the Court of Auditors, of putting soldiers in danger in the event of conflict. “The Army Health Servicewrites the report, is unable, both on a human and material level, to support the hypothesis of major commitment “.
An observation confirmed by the Orion military exercise carried out this year for several months. It was about simulating a major conflict. Doctors were only able to treat twenty wounded per day, whereas in the event of war it would be necessary to be able to treat several hundred, according to the Senate.
Leaving the army: an obstacle course
Some military doctors are ready to do anything to leave the institution. Trained and paid by the army throughout their studies, they owe twenty-seven and a half years of service under the flags in return.
Some are far from the mark, this is the case of an officer, an emergency doctor whom we met. Having become a father, he could no longer bear the pace linked to the drop in numbers. “At 17 years old, he said, “we signed up for 28 years and we have 6 months to think and then it’s over.”. His family life exploded and his 3 resignation requests were all refused. “ After the 3rd request ” specifies this emergency doctor. “I understood that the army did not want to let us leave. I went to see a fellow doctor, he gave me sick leave and the request was accepted”.
During our investigation, nearly ten doctors confirmed to us that they had done this to leave the army. One of them specifies: “ We were on mission all the time and when we returned to France we had a shitty work tool. The situation is so inextricable that they let the psychiatrists do it. Me and my friends all have certificates or we are discharged for psychiatric reasons without underlying psychiatric disorder“.
After the army: the attraction of civilian life and salaries
Surprisingly, these former soldiers, even those who have been psychiatrically discharged, have no difficulty in returning to civilian employment with, they say, better working conditions and salaries twice as high.
But before resuming their activity, these former soldiers must appear before the council of the order which examines them. Doctor Damien Mellet, national advisor to the Council of the Order of Physicians, sees more of them arriving each year.
“30 or 35 years old are the youngest doctors we receive” he specifies. “We must determine their ability to practice medicine without putting the health of patients at risk.”
Asked, the Army Health Service claims to be aware of the hemorrhage and notably promises an increase of 460 doctors before 2030 as well as an envelope of 240 million euros to increase salaries.
Among our sources:
Senate Report (2019/2020):
Court of Accounts Report (October 2023):