[EDITORIALS]Something out of M.A.S.H.There has been a string of fatal medical accidents in the military lately. Recently, a private died due to medical errors during an operation. Last year, another private succumbed to stomach cancer shortly after he left the Army. Some believe that this man’s life could have been saved had the Army heeded his early complaints and given him proper medical attention. Another soldier who suffered a gunshot wound died three hours after he was taken to the hospital. His death could have been prevented had he been taken to the hospital earlier, experts say.
While these incidents were made public, most of the medical accidents in the military are usually hushed up. Grave illnesses and physical impairments still occur with some frequency in those drafted into the Korean military. The current level of medical care in the military is seriously inadequate. Among the 2,500 surgeons serving in the military, only 3 percent are experienced military career professionals. The majority are draftees fresh out of medical school without much clinical experience. The reason most surgeons shun the military as a career is because of the low pay, only about half of that in national or public hospitals. There is also a shortage of nurses and other support staff. Sometimes there is a shortage of medicine as well. A soldier who was hospitalized for hemorrhoids said that his military hospital could not supply him with the medicine that he took before coming into the Army.
The lack of proper equipment is a bigger problem. Many military ambulances are so old that they can only travel at 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour. Two years ago, a soldier in a front-line unit died of blood loss after a traffic accident because the ambulance that took him to the hospital was faulty and was delayed for over an hour.
Facilities are also in shockingly poor condition. One military hospital building was even used as a stage set for movies about the Korean War or the Japanese colonial era because it looks so anachronistic, with its walls of cement blocks and tin slate roofs. The patients’ waiting area in the Nonsan training camp until recently was a makeshift greenhouse.
According to a survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission on 1,800 soldiers on active duty, 27 percent said the medical care they received was not quick enough or otherwise inadequate. About 21 percent also said that they would often endure pain rather than go to the hospital for fear of their superiors. The military has concentrated its budget on reinforcing its war-fighting strength, while medical care has nearly been ignored. Medical care accounts for less than 2 percent of the entire military budget. Instead of spending trillions of won on retrieving wartime command, the administration should first invest in this urgent matter. Healing soldiers who are not feeling well is very important for military morale. The military medical service should be completely renovated so that parents can send their sons to the military with a sense of safety.