Over 6,000 conscripts were declared unfit for service while already performing their mandatory military service last year. A record 6,214 conscripts requested a re-evaluation of their fitness and 98.4 percent or 6,118 were indeed discharged early, according to the Defense Ministry on Sunday.
Some 66 percent were deemed unfit for barracks life because they could not cope with the various depredations, including brutal hazing from seniors, followed by those with some kind of physical ailment or mental disorders. The annual number increased four-fold over the past six years. In 2013 a mere 1,419 were discharged.
Some soldiers need to be discharged due to physical or mental problems they have developed since they were drafted, but the rapid increase in applications has raised worries that some young men may be trying to take advantage of the system.
There is plenty of advice on the Internet about how to get an early discharge. One Army company commander said, "Some soldiers apply repeatedly for a re-evaluation even after they were turned down."
In some cases, apparently fit soldiers request a re-evaluation despite being warned that they could be investigated for trying to evade their military service.
Military authorities screen out unfit recruits at boot camp and run an education program for soldiers who need close attention to help them adjust to barracks life. But some of those who take part in the program found an excuse for their discharge in the fact itself that they took the program. A re-evaluation consists of applicants' own statements, their service and medical records, and their commander's assessment.
A senior Army officer said, "In most cases, the military tends to discharge unfit soldiers because it's hard to get them under control and they have a bad influence on other soldiers."
"In one case, a father called us and threatened to file a complaint with the Defense Ministry if we dissuaded his son, who we believed to be quite fit for active duty if he tried a little harder to adapt to barracks life," another senior Army officer said.
Cho Jin-sung, a military counselor, said, "About a half the requests for a re-evaluation are filed by parents."