By Lee Hyo-sik
A draftee who committed suicide at the nation’s largest boot camp in February was found to have been denied proper medical treatment by army doctors and other officers, the National Human Rights Commission said Monday.
The recruit took his own life after being accused of faking illness to evade training and was verbally abused by his platoon commander, the commission said, citing letters and memos found in his uniform pockets and witness testimonies.
On Feb. 18, the 20-year-old conscript, surnamed Jung, went to the medical corps at the Korean Army Training Center in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, to ask an army doctor to send him to a civilian hospital for treatment for an ear infection as his symptoms had not improved.
He had previously been treated at military medical facilities several times, but to no avail.
Jung’s request was denied by the army doctor who said he suffered from no serious illness, according to the commission’s investigation. As the conscript kept begging for further treatment, he was kicked out of the medical corps by force.
Following the incident, Jung was branded as one who faked illness to avoid harsh training. He was also verbally abused by his platoon commander in front of other recruits on Feb. 26, a day before he hung himself in a toilet at the training center.
The commander called Jung a brat, saying he would never allow the recruit to go to a civilian hospital.
The commission said that his human rights were violated, recommending the minister of national defense and the head of the Korean Army Training Center reprimand those responsible for supervising the dead conscript, as well as improve the training center’s medical care of new recruits.
It also confirmed that Jung’s platoon commander verbally abused him, thinking the conscript was faking illness to avoid training.
“Inadequate supervision and verbal abuse of new recruits by army supervisors contributed to driving Jung to committing suicide,” the rights agency said.
According to letters found in Jung’s uniform pockets, he began grappling with an ear infection on Feb. 4. Despite treatment by army doctors at the training center, the symptoms did not improve.
Jung complained that he was wrongly accused of faking illness and was going to take his own life, telling his family not to be sad about his death.
Jung’s bereaved family is furious with the army training center, insisting he chose to kill himself out of despair because he could not receive proper medical treatment.
The family also said the verbal abuse by the platoon leader and the false accusation of him being a training dodger caused him to take the extreme measure.
“I don’t understand why the army does not take care of sick recruits. They also called my son a liar and pushed him to kill himself. But no one is being held responsible. Where is the justice?” Jung’s mother, surnamed Kang, said.
The Korean Army Training Center, established in 1951, has frequently been criticized in the past for incidents of abusive training and improper medical care, which has resulted in tragedy before.
On April 23 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 tablets of Tylenol by the training center for his condition. In 2005, a company commander at the camp ordered 192 new recruits to eat excrement after he discovered blockages in two toilet drainage systems.