By Lee Hyo-sik
The Army is facing a public relations disaster, following a series of deaths of enlisted soldiers over the past few months, which have largely been blamed on the military’s inadequate medical care of servicemen.
The latest incident involves a soldier who was found unconscious and suffering from respiratory distress in bed in the middle of the night.
According to the Ministry of National Defense, Thursday, the 20-year-old private first-class, identified only by his surname Kim, was discovered unconscious by fellow soldiers around 4:20 a.m. on April 27 at the military barracks in Hwachon, Gangwon Province.
He was a member of an engineering battalion affiliated with the Army’s seventh infantry division.
After he was found, they reported the situation to a duty officer, and Kim was transferred to the battalion’s medical room 20 minutes later.
An army doctor performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other emergency steps on the unconscious soldier, but failed to stabilize him. Kim was the transferred to a nearby Army hospital in Chuncheon at around 6 a.m. But at 7:45 a.m. he was pronounced dead.
The hospital said that he died from cardiac arrest, but was unable to pinpoint exactly what caused this.
Kim’s bereaved family demanded the Army perform an autopsy to find out the exact cause of his death. The results have not yet been made public.
A defense ministry official said Kim, who was 179-centimeters tall and weighed 58 kilograms, was treated once for flu after enlisting. But he had not suffered from heart-related illnesses.
“No external injuries were found on his body. We confirmed that there were no cases of physical abuse at Kim’s barracks. It is unfortunate that Kim lost his life,” the official said. “But as far as we know, there was nothing wrong with the way the military and the hospital dealt with his case.”
Still, he said the ministry will seek ways to improve the military’s medical care of enlisted soldiers and their well-being to prevent loss of lives.
The incident came only three days after a 23-year-old conscript died from meningitis after he was forced to go on a 20-kilometer march at night and do other strenuous activities while in poor health. He was given only two Tylenol tablets by the training center for his condition.
A 21-year-old conscript was found hanging in a toilet at the center on March 1 after his requests for treatment for an ear infection were ignored.