Sketchy compensation for war vets’ families

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Sketchy compensation for war vets’ families

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Mr. Lee fought in the 1950-53 Korean War and suffered a serious leg injury, which led to his premature death in 1972. His family recently learned they might be eligible for compensation for their loss.

They were informed that a person who fought in the war and lost his life as a result can be recognized as a “man of merit,” a status that opens the door to a range of benefits for veterans’ families.

The family submitted an award given to Lee and other injured veterans to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs as proof for their compensation claim.

To their chagrin, however, the ministry turned down their claim. It said that the Korean Army couldn’t find any wartime records detailing the specifics of Lee’s injuries, such as a hospital report.

Infuriated by the decision, the family filed a complaint with the Seoul Administrative Court.

Then it was up to them to find dusty old medical records by reaching out to hospitals and a military unit in which Lee was enlisted.

“It’s really distressing,” said a family member who wishes to remain anonymous. “When the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs reviews candidates for compensation, they don’t make enough of an effort to secure as much information as possible.”

The tale of Lee’s family exposes mounting troubles facing veterans as the government stumbles in its attempt to offer benefits to their loved ones.

The JoongAng Ilbo and Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Young-joo, of the National Assembly’s State Affairs Committee, found a total of 518 compensation claims won by fallen soldiers’ families over the past three years after they were denied help by the Veterans Ministry.

They resorted to administrative litigation against the state after failed attempts to be recognized by the ministry.

As an official at the Seoul Administrative Court, Lee Jong-seok has the daunting task of dealing with the angry families.

“Records about the Korean and Vietnam wars are few and far between and many of them were destroyed,” said Lee. “So it might be inappropriate to force veterans’ families to find all the relevant documents.”

The families have to contact the Ministry of National Defense in their hunt for records. But a lack of staff to deal with veterans often leads to shoddy searches.

“We asked for past military records at different military bases and the Defense Ministry,” said a family member of the veteran who died during the Korean War.

“But every time, their answers were inconsistent. There were no particular staff members tasked with this matter and they just sort things out as they come along.” That family won its lawsuit for compensation.

The Ministry of National Defense admits to a shortage of staff to handle the search for military records.

The Veterans Ministry rejected some 26,000 applications for some kind of compensation over the past three years. Fifty-one percent of the rejections were due to insufficient records.

Some blame a lack of cooperation between Army units, the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, and the Ministry of National Defense.

“It seems that the relevant government bodies and military units don’t cooperate,” said Kwon Ki-sook, vice president of the Korean Association for Patriots and Veterans Affairs Studies.

This is not the first time the Veterans Ministry came under attack for its poor handling of compensation.

In 2011, the ministry awarded compensation of 5,000 won ($4.30) to the family of a soldier killed in action in the Korean War.

The decision was criticized by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission as being an “unreasonable price for a life of the fallen.” The amount was later raised to over 4 million won.

BY GO SEONG-PYO [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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