'Greater accountability needed from SAF'
Today online Sep 18, 2012
SINGAPORE - Her son, Lee Rui Feng Dominique Sarron had died in April in a military training exercise. Last week, Madam Felicia Seah wrote an open letter - which was posted on a Facebook page set up in memory of her 21-year-old son - urging "all parents of Singaporean sons to stand with me, to advocate for greater accountability" from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) "for the safety of our sons".
Recalling how her world "collapsed" when she learnt of her son's death, Mdm Seah claimed it would have been averted if his superiors had paid heed to his condition.
"It is clear to my family and me that my son's death was preventable. He was asthmatic. The incident that cost him his life was an urban training exercise involving smoke bombs in a confined area," said Mdm Seah.
As of yesterday, the impassioned letter was shared on the social networking site more than 280 times and was "liked" by more than 900 users.
Among other things, it called for "more thorough screening" of the medical history of enlistees and "more stringent monitoring of staff who oversee (full-time national servicemen), to weed out abuse of power at all levels".
Mdm Seah wrote: "We cannot allow for our sons to be at the mercy of the training officers ... who are very often little older and none the wiser than the boys they are tasked to oversee, boys whose lives often depend on the decisions that they make."
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) is awaiting the findings of its investigations. In response to TODAY's queries, MINDEF Director Public Affairs, Colonel Kenneth Liow, said that the ministry and the SAF "would like to again express our deepest condolences to Mdm Seah and her family" on Mr Lee's death.
MINDEF's Family Liaison Officer "has been in regular contact" with Mdm Seah and her family, and the SAF "remains committed to assisting the family and providing them the necessary support during this difficult time", Col Liow said.
Stressing that safety is a top priority for MINDEF and the SAF, he added: "Every incident resulting in injury or death is painful to us and gets top management attention. We will learn from every incident to continually improve our safety system to ensure high standards of training safety."
Last month, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen announced that MINDEF is conducting a broad review of its medical support system, including its Medical Classification and Screening System.
Cardiologist Leslie Lam told TODAY that the screening should involve ultrasound scanning of the hearts of enlistees. This would identify underlying conditions which a normal electro-cardiogram (ECG) - currently a part of the screening system - would not pick up.
However, each ultrasound scanner costs about S$250,000 and Dr Clarence Yeo, a general practitioner, pointed out that cost could be an issue.
Still, he agreed that more needs to be done in screening certain parts of the body, such as the respiratory system and muscular-skeletal structure.
It is unfortunate for any NS boys to die during his service, more so if it is due the MINDEF trying to cut proper screening of Singaporean boys because of cost.
What is $250,000 is to MINDEF? For God’s sake a bloody missile cost more then this and I think lot of its senior officers earn more then this annually.
The least MINDEF could do for its soldiers is to provide a proper screening for its soldiers so to reduce the risk of death or serious injury to the minimum.
Saving life should be the top priority, not saving cost.
If Hsien Loong is to be enlisted today, do you think MINDEF will casually put him through the normal health screening?
A life is a life, don’t think one is worth more then the other.