As Singapore celebrates yet another SAF day, we can be thankful for how far our defence force has come and its potential to remain at the top of its game; Our Air Force is getting a new fleet of fighter jets to replace our aging F16s while our Navy is getting state of the art Type 218SG submarines.
Supporting this organisation are conscripts, the vast majority of whom enlist as a Recruit and ORD as a Corporal. As some enciks may say, are the lowest life forms. But as Gandhi puts it, the greatness of an organisation lies in the way its weakest members are treated.
And it is with this, conscripts do not get very well treated.
In 2018, we saw young men lost their lives for no other reason than dutifully serving their nation. Guards trainee Dave Lee passed away from a heatstroke amidst allegations of abuse, while SCDF conscript Kok Yuen Chin tragically drowned on the day he was supposed to end his conscription term.
Unfortunately, findings derived from the Committee of Inquiries are only made public on a discretionary basis. Ultimately, families of those who have suffered the most may never have an answer to the most heart-breaking questions that exist in their lives.
And for those who are injured but fortunate enough to live, there is little recourse from SAF, unless he chooses to fight. A shame really, given that MINDEF has a annual budget that is close to $15 billion.
Back in 2005, storeman Jeremy Tan was found unconscious on a grass patch at Seletar East Camp 3 storeys down from his bunk. Even as he remained in coma, MINDEF gave him a mere $5,000 from the SAF Benevolent Fund while offering $500 a month for 5 years on compassionate grounds.
His unemployed father and bank teller mother – who had a household income of $2000 a month – chalked up outstanding hospital bills totalling $133,000 for his upkeep. Eventually, they went against the advice of friends before taking the matter to court where they won compensation in a 2009 landmark case.
“Some people even told us we may lose the case as we were up against the Government and we’d have to pay costs if we lost. But I believe anyone in our position would have done the same” his mother Hor Hong Kiow said in a media interview.
Later in 2007, NSF Lawrence Leow suffered from a heat stroke which not only left him paralysed, but also an infection in his wind pipe which resulted in having an operation to have an opening at his throat. Yet, MINDEF offered a mere $500 a month in compensation with a CSC card.
In Lawrence’s own words “The $500 is not even enough to hire a maid!”.
Even as the SAF has evolved to offer insurance schemes to conscripts and NSmen alike, they are limited in coverage while any excess that has to be self-funded on a conscript’s pitiful allowance. And in the case of Dominique Sharron Lee, there is still considerable immunity granted for accident related injuries.
To weight this in the context of Ghandi’s words, is the SAF then a “great” organisation despite state of the art technology?
Editor’s note – My secondary school mate, who has been an active sportsman during his schooling days, suffered a back injury during his Basic Military Training course and as a result, he cannot stand for long period of time. This resulted in him being unable to get a job in engineering which is his field of studies and according to him, SAF declined to accept that his injury was sustained during his service.
In another case where SAF NSman, Ganesh Pillay committed suicide at his home in 2014 after being sent home by his superior, and “awarded” 14 days of extra. He has schizophrenia and was documented during his time of entry to the army. However, his officer in charge made no attempt to find out more about his medical condition and 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.
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. TOC understands that Ganesh is regularly verbally bullied/harassed by his fellow campmates as according to testimony from one of his camp mate.
However, SAF’s stance to Ganesh’s family till today, is that given the death was outside of campgrounds. His death has nothing to do with SAF and the insurance that all NS men enjoy is not extended to him and his family.