Coroner on death of NSF: Assumptions are quite dangerous

Coroner on death of NSF: Assumptions are quite dangerous
FOUND DEAD: Private Ganesh Pillay Magindren, 23, suffered from schizophrenia.

SINGAPORE - Two assumptions made by his superior and a unit doctor in the case of a full-time national serviceman (NSF) who fell to his death came to light at a coroner's inquiry yesterday.

Private (Pte) Ganesh Pillay Magindren, 23, who suffered from schizophrenia, was found dead at the bottom of his Sengkang condominium last July, lying in a pool of his own blood.

The assumptions were made by his supervising officer at the manpower office of the 24th Battalion Singapore Artillery, Captain (Capt) Jessie Goh, and his unit's medical officer, Dr Mogilan Mohan.

Capt Goh told the inquiry that she did not know Pte Ganesh had schizophrenia and mistakenly thought it meant having a split personality.

Dr Mogilan, on the other hand, assumed that the officers in the unit already knew of Pte Ganesh's mental condition, when in fact they did not.

The revelations prompted State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid to say at the State Courts: "There are a lot of assumptions here...and assumptions are quite dangerous."

ASSUMPTION ONE

Pte Ganesh was given the second lowest Physical Employment Status (PES) of E9L9 for his schizophrenia. The lowest PES status, PES F, would mean he is exempted from national service.

When he was first posted to the unit, he had told Capt Goh during an informal interview that he suffered from depression, but she thought he "was just being sad" and "did not think he was being serious".

She also thought he was "a sloppy person" as he did not know how to take care of himself. He often wore unwashed clothes and did not practise good personal hygiene.

During a bunk cleaning session, Capt Goh said she found a packet of bread that Pte Ganesh had kept in his cupboard for two months.

When asked, he said he would eat the bread when he got hungry.

Despite seeing such tardiness, Capt Goh did not attribute his behaviour to schizophrenia. She was unable to see why he was classified as a PES E soldier as her computer system does not show a soldier's medical records.

She found out about his schizophrenia only after his private psychiatrist, Dr Paul Ngui, informed her in a letter last April, five months after he was posted into the unit in Khatib Camp.

The letter said Mr Ganesh had "a vulnerable personality and should not be exposed to severe stress conditions".

When asked by Mr Imran to describe what she understood of this statement, Capt Goh said: "It was too generic and did not specify what should be done to manage Ganesh. Stress is very subjective."

She referred his case to Dr Mogilan and began to pay more attention to him after that, but maintained her strictness with him.

On the day before his death, Capt Goh had given him 14 days of extra duties for not signing a logbook, reporting late for work and unsatisfactory work performance.

Said Capt Goh: "I did not receive feedback from him that what I did was unfair, or from his peers that what I did was too much, or receive any consult from the medical officer that I should be lenient or give him special treatment.

"A soldier is not to be stigmatised by his physical or mental condition, and has to be treated like everyone else. Commanders must practise compassion balanced with minimum standards of discipline."

Despite being strict, she also said she had given him plenty of leeway and gave him only the lightest punishment of extra duties, instead of other forms of punishments, like sending him to the detention barracks.

She described their relationship as "friends", and said she would compliment his posts on Facebook and teach him how to iron and clean his clothes.

Three days before his death, Capt Goh had sent a trembling and sick Pte Ganesh home as she saw that he was shivering and believed he was not in a condition to rest in the bunk.

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