Budget debate: Extra $2,000 for NSmen, new $1,600 base pay for all and other improvements

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on March 3 unveiled several new initiatives to improve the NS experience. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - From better deployment of new recruits with existing injuries to automating make-up pay for operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) serving their reservist, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on Thursday (March 3) unveiled several new initiatives to improve the NS experience.

During a 1½ hour debate in Parliament on Mindef’s budget, MPs such as Mr Mohd Fahmi Aliman (Marine Parade GRC) asked how the ministry has been updating its medical classification system; Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked what Mindef is doing to make the NS experience better for servicemen and women; while Dr Wan Rizal (Jalan Besar GRC) focused on training safety, and for the ministry to elaborate on its use of the latest technologies to protect those serving the country.

1. Reservist make-up pay to be automated, $1,600 base pay for all regardless of rank

This has long been a bugbear for some NSmen, especially for self-employed people and platform workers whose incomes are harder to calculate or prove.

Previously, the onus was on individual NSmen or their employers to submit documents to make claims for their lost civilian income during reservist activities.

From the second half of 2022, Mindef will begin drawing data from the Income Revenue Authority of Singapore and the Central Provident Fund board to automatically compute make-up pay amounts.

NSmen and employers will be asked to review this before the sum is paid out, and they can submit additional documents if they want a recalculation.

Those with income data not captured in the systems will automatically receive $1,600 for a month of reservist activities, regardless of rank.

More than 100,000 NSmen and 25,000 employers are set to benefit from this change.

2. Recruits with sports injuries and bone and muscle issues to be better deployed

Rather than immediately deeming them as non-combat-fit, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) physiotherapists will from this year incorporate further tests during these recruits' pre-enlistment medical screening.

These "functional assessments" will cover a person's range of motion, stability and strength. Doctors will then decide whether the recruits can be deployed to a wider range of roles based on their abilities.

SAF has been trialling this for drivers of military vehicles and will now include more vocations in the scheme.

For instance, servicemen of different physical capabilities can now become medics as the job has been redesigned.

The Home Team will also adjust its operational requirements so that more NSmen can take on front-line roles, Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said during the debate on his ministry's budget.

This comes as low birth rates mean smaller NS cohorts each year, and Mindef and the Home Team try to use each national serviceman more efficiently as technology and operating contexts evolve.

NSmen with civilian expertise in certain areas, such as law, can also be redeployed at any point during the reservist cycles if their skills meet Mindef and the SAF’s needs.

To benefit, NSmen should update their education qualifications and work experience on the NS portal and indicate their interest in this scheme with their NS Relations Officer or via the NS Matters website.

3. $2,000 more for completing NS milestones

From April, NSmen will get $2,000 more in cash credits for completing their three NS milestones - $1,000 after finishing full-time NS, $500 at the mid-point of the reservist cycles, and another $500 upon entering the Mindef reserve after all reservist cycles are completed.

This is on top of the previous transfers that mostly went into their CPF accounts at these three stages.

The cash credits will be disbursed in the form of LifeSG credits that can be used at all online and physical merchants that accept "Scan and Pay" via PayNow QR, and at merchants who accept payment via Nets QR from next month.

From April, NSmen will get $2,000 more in cash credits for completing their three NS milestones. PHOTO: MINDEF

4. More opportunities to study while serving NS

New recruits from April next year who want to study computer science, computer engineering, data science or artificial intelligence can apply for a Work-Learn scheme where they can study for their undergraduate degree while serving their full-time NS.

Mindef said the selection process will be rigorous and those selected will serve four years with the Singapore Armed Forces as digital specialists. 

This builds on existing programmes, including one focusing on logistics and supply chain management in collaboration with the Institute of Technical Education.

About 500 NSFs are expected to be enrolled in such schemes each year come 2025.

5. Insurance coverage doubled

From next year, life and personal accident insurance coverage for all Mindef and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) servicemen will increase from $150,000 to $300,000 per person.

Mindef and MHA have been buying insurance coverage for enlistees since 2016, and are updating coverage to make sure financial support and protection in the event of death or injury stays relevant and adequate.

6. New heat research centre to make sure training safety keeps up with climate change

Recognising that rising ambient temperatures due to climate change will impact the well-being of servicemen and SAF's operations, a new Heat Resilience and Performance Centre will be set up at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Researchers, including from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in NUS and the DSO National Laboratories, will develop solutions to prevent heat injury in soldiers, such as through real-time detection and other technologies.

They will also look for new factors that could influence whether or when heat injury may occur. This could lead to infrastructural improvements to reduce the heat stress of soldiers during training.

7. Opening of HomeTeamNS@Bedok Clubhouse

This sixth clubhouse under the HomeTeamNS umbrella will open at the end of the year in the East, fronting Bedok reservoir.

The first phase of the OneNS platform, a one-stop platform for all NS-related services, will also be launched in the later half of this year.

The article has been edited for clarity.

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