Parliament: Various levels of checks for NS enlistees who handle weapons, says Ng Eng Hen

SINGAPORE - All national servicemen and women who handle live arms undergo various levels of checks to determine that they are psychologically sound, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday (Feb 6) in a written answer to a Parliamentary question.

In his reply, Dr Ng laid out the different measures Mindef takes to ensure enlistees are mentally capable of performing their NS duties.

This includes a comprehensive medical screening, where pre-enlistees are screened for both physical and mental health conditions at the Central Manpower Base.

"Pre-enlistees are asked explicitly if they have a previous record of mental health conditions during the screening," said Dr Ng. "In addition, we require the parent or guardian to endorse this declaration."

Since 2016, Mindef and the Singapore Armed Forces have also been working with the Ministry of Health to identify pre-enlistees with records of mental health history at public hospitals.

If a possible mental health condition is surfaced, the pre-enlistee will be referred to appropriate specialists to certify that that enlistee is mentally capable of performing their National Service duties and to handle firearms.

The question about the emotional and psychological assessment from Nominated Member of Parliament Randolph Tan comes a few weeks after state coroner Marvin Bay ruled that an army regular's death in Sembawang Camp was a deliberate act of suicide.

Specialist Cadet Trainee S. Pravinraj, then 20, was found dead with gunshot wounds in a toilet on Nov 21, 2015.

Dr Ng added on Monday that should a serviceman be deemed unsuited for handling firearms because of his emotional or psychological state, he would be excused from such duties and re-deployed to vocations that do not require access to weapons and live ammunition.

The avenues for SAF servicemen to obtain counselling or medical assistance include a 24-hour SAF counselling hotline.

Those who are diagnosed with mental health conditions are closely monitored and given the necessary treatment and counselling.

At the formation level, psychologists are deployed to assist commanders in such instances, while commanders interview all servicemen at regular intervals at the unit level, Dr Ng said.

Commanders are also trained to better understand mental health conditions so that they can identify and manage servicemen with such conditions.

"Mindef and the SAF will continue to periodically review and strengthen the mental health system, in consultation with the SAF Psychiatry Specialist Advisory Board, which comprises senior psychiatrists drawn from public healthcare institutions, to ensure that all our servicemen are able to discharge their duties and at the same time, to receive good emotional and mental health care," said Dr Ng.