A problem of national prideAmong veterans who served during the Korean War (1950-53), about 170,000 are still living. They are aged 82, on average, and about 10,000 to 15,000 die each year. Nearly half battle illness and 87 percent live in poverty. In return for their past service, the government offers a monthly allowance of 120,000 won ($103) for their noble sacrifices and discounts on medical care ranging from 10 percent to 60 percent.
That’s all. According to a recent survey, they live on 490,000 won a month on average - far below the basic monthly living cost of 553,000 won specified by law. It is a shameful way to treat war veterans.
Against this backdrop, Saenuri Party Representative Lee Jang-woo and 33 other lawmakers jointly filed a bill to revise the law for war veterans’ benefits and their interest groups, last week. They proposed that, over the next five years, allowances to honor veterans’ service during the war be incrementally raised to 50 percent of the basic monthly living cost. Representatives in the National Assembly sought a similar revision in the last session, but the attempt failed to go through due to budget worries and concerns over Vietnam War veterans.
The Korean War is increasingly becoming a forgotten war, with one out of five post-war generation students unaware that the war had been triggered by North Korea’s invasion. In the meantime, Americans - in order to remember one of the bloodiest battles which took place around Lake Jangjin in North Korea during the three-year war and to honor the survivors - named a mountain in the state of Alaska after the location.
The U.S. government and military authorities still continue to recover bodies of missing American soldiers in North and South Korea because honoring veterans and upholding their pride is also a way of defending the country’s pride and dignity.
South Korea should at least guarantee that its aged and ailing veterans live without worrying about their basic needs. The country should be ashamed to think that it has done its job by giving their veterans petty money that would merely pay for a decent dinner at a restaurant. Budget spending should be a matter of prioritization. The government and politicians alike must find money in the budget to pay due respect to war veterans.