SINGAPORE - A support programme for National Service (NS) recruits in the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has been enhanced recently to help those who require additional supervision and assistance to adjust to NS.
This comes after a State Coroner's recommendations last week to review SCDF's structure and protocols to deal with mental health issues among its servicemen. The proposals were made after SCDF full-time national serviceman Muhammad Ahad Lone, 18, committed suicide in April last year.
Under the previous programme, SCDF full-time national servicemen (NSFs) were interviewed by their assigned NSF platoon commander if they had been assessed to require additional supervision and support to adjust to NS.
With the enhancements, those who have been assessed to require additional supervision and support will be accompanied by a deputy platoon commander in the interviews with their platoon commander.
This deputy platoon commander would be "an older regular officer who can assume the nuturing role of a father", said a spokesman for SCDF in response to media queries.
"These interviews are also now conducted in civilian attire, so that the setting is less regimented and recruits may feel more comfortable to open up about problems they may be facing," the spokesman added.
SCDF NSFs who have no local family support will also receive additional help, such as being assigned a buddy from the same ethnic group or one who speaks the same language where possible.
"Those who are facing financial difficulties will be offered accommodation within the camp over weekends or public holidays," the spokesman said.
Last week, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam also recommended that the SCDF appoint trained mental health professionals to each SCDF camp, following a coroner's inquiry into the death of Ahad.
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He was found dead at the foot of an apartment block at Pine Grove in Clementi, where he had been living alone in a rented room.
Ahad was born in Pakistan and came to Singapore with his family in 2007. They obtained Singapore citizenship in 2009. Ahad had been serving his NS in the SCDF since Feb 6 last year.
He had shown signs of depression and had expressed to doctors his intention to inflict self-harm during his time with the SCDF.
Between the time of his enlistment and his death, Ahad was seen on six occasions at the National University Hospital (NUH), on 11 occasions at the Civil Defence Academy (CDA) Medical Centre and once at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
However, his medical certificate privileges were restricted on March 27 last year as his unit said he had been taking multiple MCs from NUH Emergency Department whenever he booked out of camp.
The coroner's inquiry found that Ahad was told visits to the emergency department ought to be only for emergencies and he should report sick in camp or to the camp's primary care doctor instead.
The SCDF spokesman said the SCDF had ensured that Ahad received "prompt medical attention whenever he required it".
On April 2, the SCDF's medical officer placed Ahad on light duties for three months, following IMH's memo on his condition, and told him that his case would be put up to the Home Team Medical Board for consideration for a Physical Employment Status (PES) downgrade.
On that same day, an orientation officer followed up with a one-on-one counselling sesion with Ahad to provide additional support, said the spokesman.
The orientation officer was part of the SCDF's Emergency Behavioural Sciences and Care Unit, an in-house psychological unit comprising psychologists and uniformed officers trained in mental health issues. They provide support in mental health and resilience for all SCDF staff and officers including NSFs.
The spokesman added that Ahad had been given one night's confinement on April 6 last year, because he was late in reporting back to the SCDF's National Service Training Institute (NSTI).
Noting that it was not Ahad's first offence, the spokesman said the NSF had also failed to report to NSTI on March 25, and only did so on the following evening.
"However, even though he had accrued a potential charge of Absence Without Official Leave, he was given a warning in lieu of punishment. He served the confinement under the supervision of the camp Duty Officer, who did not observe anything amiss about his behaviour," the spokesman said.
He added that the SCDF will study the State Coroner's recommendations carefully.
Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.