By Terry Xu
State coroner Imran Abdul Hamid delivered his findings on the Coroner’s Inquiry into the death of Private (Pte) Ganesh Pillay Magindren on Tuesday afternoon.
Ganesh was found dead at the foot of his condominium in Sengkang on 5th July last year.
He was a national serviceman with the Singapore Armed Forces and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he enlisted on 9th October 2012. He was then given a PES E (E9L9) medical fitness grading as a result of his mental illness.
(Medical classification of E9L9 is just one grade above PES F which would exempt one from having to serve national service.)
In his findings, Mr Imran noted that Dr Paul W Ngui, who was the private psychiatrist for Ganesh, did not recommend that the serviceman be discharged from service. Neither did the parents insist that their son be discharged from the military.
Mr Imran established that Ganesh’s fall from his condominium was a deliberate act and he ruled out any foul play. Ganesh’s death was due to multiple body injuries which are consistent with ones caused by falling from height, he said.
The Coroner noted that schizophrenia is considered a major illness/sickness under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, also known as the DSM-IV codes. He pointed out that Dr Mogilan Mohan, who was a medical officer at Khatib Camp Medical Centre where Ganesh was enlisted, had not been informed of Ganesh’s medical condition by his former unit, Kranji camp.
The Coroner noted that is in contravention of section 297 of the SAF’s medical directive.
He described it as a classic case of non-compliance.
He also noted that there is still no instructions to keep a register for servicemen with psychiatric problems even after the death of Ganesh which had occurred 10 months ago.
This was verified by the legal representative from MINDEF.
Dr Liew Jun Wen, the medical officer at the Psychological Care Centre (PCC), said Ganesh was getting along well with his mates when Dr Liew saw Ganesh – for the first and only time – on 3 July.
However, during the medical interview performed by Dr Mogilan just one day later on 4th July, Ganesh said that his camp mates were acting “funny” towards him and that he was scolded for being a bad person..
Mr Imran said this difference might be due to the fact that Ganesh was seeing Dr Liew for the first time then and as a result, did not open up to him as he did with Dr Mogilan;
The Coroner also noted that Dr Liew is not a trained psychiatrist.
Dr Mogilan said that the officer in charge of Ganesh, Captain (Cpt) Jessie Goh, would have known about Ganesh’s medical condition as she was the manpower officer, but he did not check with her if she knew.
The Coroner also pointed out that Cpt Goh was lacking in curiosity in her only PES E soldier and she had made no attempt to find out more about his medical condition.
Cpt Goh did not associate Ganesh’s inability to perform daily chores with his mental illness, but after reading about the symptoms of schizophrenia she realised that the two may in fact be related.
“She was out of her depth to handle the deceased”, said the Coroner.
If she had been aware of Ganesh’s condition, she would have recommended further medical treatment for him at an earlier date and would have sought information on how to better manage the deceased.
The Coroner accepted the testimony of Corporal (Cpl) Seah, Ganesh’s camp mate, that the deceased was treated strictly and harshly.
The Coroner said that the 14 extra duties that were given to Ganesh a day before his death is a daunting prospect even for a normal serviceman and does not believe that it had nothing to do with the death of the serviceman although it may not be the only cause.
Channel News Asia reported MINDEF’s statement on its report of the coroner’s inquiry. (See link)
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have extended their sympathies to the family of the late Ganesh Pillay for their loss.
In a statement, MINDEF said it will study the State Coroner’s findings carefully to improve and tighten its procedures, to ensure better compliance by SAF units in dealing with soldiers with mental problems.
MINDEF adds that apart from the Funeral Grant and SAF Benevolent Grant extended to the family immediately following Ganesh’s death, the SAF will continue to support them with financial and other assistance.
TOC understands from the family that no apologies or words of sympathies have been expressed to the family by MINDEF directly.
Even after the death of the serviceman, the only counseling session held by MINDEF for the family seemed more like a survey than anything else, with questions such as, “How was the family close to the deceased, grade from 1 to 5?”
The family said that they did not feel any better from the counseling. In fact, they felt worse after it.
MINDEF has not apologized for the death of the serviceman nor admitted any fault by the army for the death of Ganesh.
There has also not been any follow up with the family.
“They (the army) killed him and left me alone,” said Mr Reganathan.
The family is still waiting to get a response from the relevant authorities. They hope to see changes in the existing system to manage serviceman with psychiatric problems so that another serviceman with circumstances similar to Ganesh’s will not need to die needlessly.
See detailed reports for testimonies of the witnesses and the story as a whole:
Coroner’s inquiry into death of serviceman: “Troubling lapses in handing of serviceman at coroner’s hearing”
Captain Jessie Goh: “Symptoms seens as problems with adjusting with military life”
Dr. Mogilan: “Dangerous general assumptions to have”
Also read up Dr. Ang Yong Guan’s personal take over the incident. “Should male Singaporeans suffering from Schizophrenia serve national service?”