Military to expand health checks for soldiers

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Military to expand health checks for soldiers

The Korean military will improve its medical services system for soldiers, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.

The announcement follows the sudden death of a newly conscripted soldier last month who died from diabetes complications after receiving inadequate treatment.

The focus of the reforms, the ministry said, will be on strengthening health checks for conscripted soldiers before they enter the Army to identify those with pre-existing conditions or chronic diseases.

Currently, all men eligible for compulsory military service in Korea must go through five medical checks, which test for Hepatitis types B and C, syphilis, HIV, as well as liver function.

The new system will require all Army recruits to undergo and pass 16 health checks. Those examinations will include tests to check liver health, kidney function, blood sugar levels and total cholesterol levels. Recruits will also have blood and urine tests.

The measures come after a 20-year-old soldier, surnamed Lee, who had just entered the Army, died from acute diabetes complications.

Lee, a university student, started basic training on Dec. 7 for the 50th Infantry Division. His training was scheduled to end on Jan. 23, after which he would have officially begun his service.

However, during training on Jan. 15, Lee suddenly collapsed during breakfast and was transported to a nearby hospital in Daegu, North Gyeongsang. Four days later, he died of respiratory failure, part of the complications from diabetes.

According to the military, two days before he collapsed, Lee went for a medical checkup at a military hospital in Daegu.

At the time, an Army doctor suspected Lee could have diabetes and recommended he undergo further testing. However, for reasons unknown, Lee returned to training without receiving additional medical care.

“We feel very sorry for the bereaved family,” Park Dae-seop, an official from the Defense Ministry, said at a briefing. “We are currently investigating the Army doctor in the Daegu hospital and already sent Lee’s senior officers to the disciplinary committee.”

As part of extended medical reforms for new soldiers, the military will also increase the number of Army doctors in charge of physical exams at its recruit training center from two to four.

The results of recruits’ checkups will be shared with senior Army officers so that they can closely monitor soldiers with chronic conditions.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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