Saturday, 26 April 2014

NSmen to get more perks in health care, housing, education

By Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2014

CITIZEN soldiers can expect more benefits in housing, health care and education soon, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, adding that more will be done to help them balance work and family with military service.

A package of "meaningful" benefits is being considered for operationally ready servicemen (NSmen), he said yesterday on the sidelines of a military exercise.

More details will be unveiled when the Committee to Strengthen National Service wraps up its deliberations in June, he said.

Started in March last year, the committee has reached out to about 40,000 people and is slated to release its report in the second half of the year.

"We want to centre the recognition benefits on giving (NSmen) a greater stake in Singapore, whether it is housing, health or education," said Dr Ng.

Currently, NSmen stand to receive $9,000 or $10,500, depending on rank, under the NS Recognition Award.

A third of this is paid into an NSman's post-secondary education account after he completes two years of service.

The rest is paid into his Central Provident Fund account in the middle and at the end of the reservist period, to meet housing or retirement needs.

"We are focused on helping NSmen contribute more and to balance their work and family commitments with NS," said Dr Ng. "We also want to empower people who want to volunteer for NS, like women, new citizens and permanent residents."

He was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the fortnight-long Golden Sand exercise involving 800 personnel from the army, navy and air force on Pulau Sudong.

The exercise was also the swansong for 450 NSmen from the elite 702 Guards unit who have completed their 10-year NSmen training cycle. The unit's commanding officer, Major (NS) Melvin Kwek, 39, an executive director at a bank, noted that many of his men still had to take computers and mobile phones to camp to check in on work.

"We need to have flexibility in the training programme because of our family and work commitments. This provides an enhanced and positive experience for us."

Another soldier, pre-school art teacher Muhammad Fadly Asis, 36, said more recognition was needed.

"We should feature NSmen more in military parades such as the SAF Day and NDP (National Day Parade), and give incentives to employers who support NS training," he said.

NS advisory panel to be reorganised
Three sub-committees will provide more focus for different groups
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

TERTIARY students, employers and family and friends of national servicemen will have a bigger voice with a planned reorganisation of a committee that provides feedback to the Government on national service (NS).

At a meeting of the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (Accord) yesterday, Second Minister for Defence Chan Chun Sing said the move would change Accord from being simply a feedback channel for the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to a platform for deeper engagement.

"We are going to restructure it (Accord) into a main committee and three sub-committees to provide more focus and attention to engagement for the different groups," he said.

Each sub-committee, whose members have expertise in specific areas, would be able to look at issues relating to NS in greater depth and provide suggestions to Mindef for improvements, he added.

Accord was formed in 1984 with people from different professions to help shape Mindef's efforts to generate public awareness and support for NS. It currently has 24 members.

One of them, principal of ITE College West Yek Tiew Ming, felt the reorganisation would make the council more effective in contributing ideas.

"If you ask me about issues with employers or the manufacturing sector, I may not be able to contribute much," said Dr Yek. "With the restructure, my time can be more focused on engaging in education issues (related to NS)."

Responding to reporters' queries about the State Coroner's findings a fortnight ago that there were lapses involved in the death of a soldier who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Mr Chan said that mental health issues were not discussed in yesterday's meeting, but the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) takes "a very serious view" of the case and will follow up on the findings and recommendations.

"Our job is to make sure that while we train the NSmen hard, it is also our job to take care of them properly," he said. "We will continuously refine our processes to strengthen our internal processes to make sure that we take the best care of our NSmen."

More than 20,000 enlistees join SAF every year.

Yesterday, Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman also elaborated on health-care benefits being considered by the Government for operationally ready national servicemen.

He said the workgroup he chairs on recognitions and benefits will recommend enhancing the National Service Recognition Award scheme to boost the Medisave portion of the grant.

NSmen currently receive either $9,000 or $10,500, depending on rank, when they complete different phases of their NS.

Grants are channelled first into their Post-Secondary Education Accounts, and then into their CPF Ordinary, Special and Medisave accounts.

"One of the feedback that came across quite strongly was that NSmen would appreciate if we could do something as far as health-care costs were concerned," said Dr Maliki.

"So, we are looking at what we can do to try and provide greater recognition in terms of health care."

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