Readers of this blog would be aware that umpteen number of times the connection between domestic factors and military service leading to an effect on the psychological health of soldiers has been raised by me to which our system seems oblivious. Besides other posts, the issue has been discussed threadbare in this post dated 30 May 2013 and more recently in this op-ed on StratPost dated 15 May 2014, the following lines of which address the issue:
Rules promulgated by the Government state that if the cause of the disability cannot be identified, then disability pension is to be granted to the individual by taking the disability as attributable to service, but in practice, in such cases disability pension admissibility is rejected by stating that pension cannot be awarded since the ‘cause is unknown’ or that the disease is a ‘constitutional disease’. Psychiatric disabilities, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even worrying trends of suicides and fratricide are being ignored and mostly being wrongly linked to ‘domestic reasons’ thereby obliterating a connection with military service so as to keep negative propaganda at bay, rather than looking within. But this approach is not only a disservice to our soldiers but also cowardly whereby eyes are closed to an issue which should engage us and which has a direct link with military life.
A soldier spends most of his service life in his unit and away from his family, blaming such occurrences on ‘domestic reasons’ may be the easy way out to escape responsibility but hardly moral, ethical or legal. And then there are certain provisions that our commanders, doctors and even those deciding entitlements sitting in tall towers in Delhi are unaware of. A succinct example would be, that as per rules, even suicides are to be declared as ‘attributable to military service’ if the occurrence is in a high altitude or isolated area, and this has been the rule position since 1937 when the British codified this aspect. But why would anybody want to go deep and study such issues, scratching the surface is much easier, even if it leads to deleterious consequences to the entitlements of our soldiers and their widows.
To deny benefits, at times it is remarked that such disabilities may also have arisen had the particular person not been in the Army. Very well. Here is a person who is 24 hours and 365 days on call under a stern disciplinary code, mostly away from family, in a strictly regimented routine, retires in his 30s, and can he be simplistically compared with say a civilian employee who goes to office at 9 in the morning to return at 5, five days a week, lives with his family in his hometown, enjoys holidays, retires at 60?. It shouldn’t take an expert to reply in the negative.
While a solider is away on military duty, wouldn’t common ailments such as hypertension or heart diseases or seizures or psychiatric disabilities or psychosomatic disorders get aggravated by even seemingly insignificant incidents at the home-front like admissions or non-performance of children in educational institutions, minor property disputes, lack of care of aged parents and family back home, insensitivity of civil administration and the like?
Thankfully, this reality has found favour with the Supreme Court in a recently pronounced decision in a case where a schizophrenic solider, K Srinivasa Reddy, had challenged the verdict of the Chennai Bench of Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) which had rejected his plea for disability pension on the pretext that the disability had been declared ‘neither attributable to, nor aggravated by service’ by a military medical board. Most importantly, while setting aside the order of the AFT, the Supreme Court has in effect observed in its decision that aggravation is bound to occur in such situations since soldiers are torn between their domestic commitments and call of duty. The Supreme Court has once again reiterated that a disability is to be presumed as having been caused due to service conditions as also provided under the rules unless the medical board assigns reasons as to how the disability was such that it could not be detected at the time of acceptance into service. Of course, our medical boards or the locally and crudely produced Guide to Medical Officers (Military Pensions) which takes no notice of what medical research has gone into its publication, cannot override what is provided under the rules promulgated by the Government of India which duly favour such disabled soldiers.
This brings me to yet another aspect. Forget about negative findings, even when medical boards return a positive finding of attributability or aggravation favouring our soldiers, the Services HQ are administratively terming many disabilities as ‘neither attributable/nor aggravated’. Of course, this is contemptuous since the Supreme Court had way back in 1993 held that once a medical board was in favour of an individual, the declaration of attributability/aggravation could not be overturned by administrative authorities. The reason being put across by the Services HQ is that officers of the Defence Accounts Department (DAD) do not agree to grant of disability pension in many cases even if the medical board is in favour of an officer/soldier. This attitude however is highly objectionable since most of the committees and bodies handling the grant of disability pension are headed by senior service officers and officers of the DAD are merely individual members of such committees. In case, if it is the DAD which is to prevail, then the question arises that what is the use of having such multi-member committees at all? or what is the purpose of having senior serving military officers as the heads of such committees? Instead we can then just have a single member committee consisting of one officer of the DAD who can deal with the futures of our thousands of disabled troops with the nameplate ‘GOD’ placed outside his or her office!
What is more valuable or binding on us? Rules and decisions of our Apex Court and the agony of our soldiers OR the personal opinion of one junior member of a sarkari committee who can illegally dictate his or her terms to the seniormost uniformed officers who blindly fall in line?
Think. Introspect. Look within.