Netizen's claim of avoiding NS being probed

Netizen's claim of avoiding NS being probed

The Ministry of Defence is investigating a netizen's claim that he avoided his national service duty by faking mental instability and going on a "medical certificate spree".

The offending post appeared last Friday on the Facebook page of a group called SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) Confessions - which lets users post stories anonymously so long as its administrators do not deem them to be insensitive.

In it, the writer claimed to have lowered his initial Physical Employment Status (PES) to E9L9 by receiving treatment for depression at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) a year prior to NS.

The PES plays a large part in determining a soldier's vocation within the army. A PES A soldier is fit for all combat vocations, while a PES F status would exempt him from any form of service.

By taking MCs and avoiding military police check-ups, the writer boasted that he spent just one hour in camp and that his NS life spanned just six weeks, compared with the usual two years. He ended the post saying: "Don't be fooled by what some people say about PES F people being unable to be hired. The world is your oyster."

He signed off as "A PES F-ed Recruit".

The Singapore Army said on its Facebook page on Sunday: "It is regrettable that a Singaporean blogger has boasted about how he managed to dishonestly and blatantly get himself discharged from national service. His dishonesty undermines our system of managing servicemen who genuinely suffer from mental illness... The SAF is looking into this matter."

The story drew criticisms from netizens, and some doubts from medical practitioners.

Dr Ang Yong Guan, the former head of SAF's Psychological Care Centre, said there were a few reasons why the account seems exaggerated. First, PES F is normally reserved for those suffering from a severe mental illness like schizophrenia. For a soldier to get this status for depression, he would have to have been untreated for it. "He would have shot himself in the foot by saying he had been treated before," said Dr Ang.

Other inconsistencies included the writer's claim to have spent only an hour in camp. "As far as I'm aware, anyone coming in with a PES E9L9 would need to undergo a four-week orientation course," he added. "At the end of the day, it's not that easy to feign severe mental illnesses.

"The army's psychiatrist would have checked with IMH or at least placed him in an SAF medical ward for further monitoring."

Fellow netizens, like Facebook user Jerome Teo, said it would make the situation harder for full-time national servicemen (NSFs) in genuine need of help. Another user said: "Being a liar/cheat isn't something to be proud of. What you can be proud of, but sadly lack the aptitude to do so, is to juggle both your national commitment with your work. A lot of people can do that, (so) don't give excuses for all your lies and laziness."

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said last month that about 500 men a year have been exempted from NS due to mental health problems for the last three years. This forms over 2 per cent of around 24,500 servicemen who enter the armed forces, police and civil defence every year.

He was responding to a parliamentary question on the death of NSF Ganesh Pillay Magindren, 23, who had been seeing a psychiatrist for schizophrenia before taking his own life last July.

darylc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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