Recruits with troubles are on the riseMilitary authorities are agonizing over how to handle psychologically troubled soldiers.
Two corporals of the 28th Army Division who hanged themselves at an apartment in Seoul on Monday were both recognized as “requiring special attention” following psychological examinations.
That status was shared by a private first class in the same division who died in April after being fatally beaten by his senior soldiers; a sergeant in the 22nd Army Division who went on a deadly shooting rampage in June that killed five and injured seven; and a corporal in the 6th Artillery Brigade who stole a truck earlier this month and injured four civilians when he plowed into a bus.
The military conducts psychological examinations to identify soldiers who may be mentally unstable and are in danger of snapping. Those who are considered at risk are classified in three categories of diminishing seriousness: those in need of A-grade attention, B-grade attention or C-grade attention.
Soldiers in the A-grade category are those who have attempted suicide or are highly likely to cause problems; soldiers in the B-grade have some form of mental disorder and are likely to cause problems. Most of the soldiers who need C-grade attention are young men who have been in the military for less than 100 days. They usually sort themselves out and don’t cause trouble.
But military officers are having a tough time dealing with soldiers in need of A or B-grade attention, especially those in isolated, front-line units.
“There are three to four soldiers in need of A-grade attention and seven to eight who need B-grade attention in every company,” said a military officer of a unit located along the front line. “It is hard to focus on work because we are responsible once they cause any problems.”
Currently, there are about 8,600 soldiers who are considered in need of A-grade attention and 19,500 others who need B-grade attention, accounting for 2.5 percent and 5.6 percent of all soldiers respectively.
The Ministry of National Defense has prepared various measures to manage those soldiers. Counselors are being deployed to every unit to help soldiers adapt to the military, and sometimes they decide to change soldiers jobs or transfer them to other units. Soldiers who are highly likely to commit suicide or make trouble are also sent to psychological treatment programs such as Vision Camp, a three-to-five day program established in every division and regiment, and Green Camp, a two-week program in every corps.
Last year, 3,701 soldiers attended the Vision Camp program while 2,657 were sent to Green Camp.
Troubled soldiers can be discharged from the military if they are assessed to be not fit for service. Last year, 3,813 soldiers were discharged for that reason, and the figure has already exceeded 2,000 in the first half of this year.
But one of the conscripts who killed himself on Monday was deemed unfit for duty but stayed in his unit because his parents refused his discharge, and there are many similar cases.
BY YOO SEONG-WOON AND CHON KWON-PIL [firstname.lastname@example.org]