Lawmakers at the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee yesterday attacked the Ministry of National Defense (MND) over the number of military suicides, calling on the ministry to initiate a review of troop management and counseling.
The call came just hours after a 22-year-old Presidential Office guard, surnamed Kao (高), shot himself with his rifle while on duty.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Chao Shih-chang (趙世璋), who fielded questions from lawmakers at the committee meeting, said there have been seven suicides and eight attempted suicides in the military so far this year.
Speaking of Kao’s case, Chao said: “We found through his military daybook that he had just split up with his girlfriend, whom he had been with for 268 days and he was feeling very low because of that.”
It was regrettable that Ko committed suicide, he said, adding that the soldier had received some counseling recently.
The ministry would enforce psychological counseling for all soldiers, Chao said, adding that the current regulations were very -thorough in this respect, but the problem lay in implementation.
Pointing out that Kao was a young man serving his mandatory military service, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) asked why he was issued a loaded weapon. Giving raw recruits loaded weapons posed a threat to the security of the Presidential Office, Tsai said.
It is not just a matter of unit management, but of national security, Tsai said, calling for the ministry to initiate a review of troop systems, management and counseling.
DPP Legislator Hsueh Ling (薛凌), citing defense ministry data, said 23 soldiers killed themselves last year, or roughly one every two weeks.
From 2002 to last year, the leading causes of death for soldiers were car crashes and drunken driving, while suicide was second, she said, adding almost 300 soldiers had suffered self-inflicted injuries or committed suicide in the past decade.
Data from the Beitou Armed Forces Hospital showed that six of every 10 suicide attempts was successful, and that the success rate for suicides using firearms was as high as 75 percent, while overdoses accounted for 13.64 percent and wrist-slashing and hanging stood at 10.87 percent each, she said.
Officers should pay more attention to the psychological state of soldiers, Hsueh said, citing former minister of defense Lee Tien-yu (李天羽), who once said paying full attention to soldiers entailed “paying attention to how much they eat, their expressions when receiving mail and phone calls, their actions at night and stamina when conducting drills.”
If a soldier exhibits any odd behavior in all of the above activities, then officers should offer appropriate counseling to prevent regrettable incidents, Hsueh said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lin Yu-fang (林郁方) said that soldiers who are emotionally unstable should be transferred from their assigned posts until they are able to fulfill their duties.
Additional reporting by CNA
Translated by Jake Chung, staff writer