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    Jun 17, 2014

    NS discharge story - fact or fiction?

    AN ANONYMOUS person has created a stir by "confessing" how he escaped serving his national service (NS) by faking mental illness. Experts are now divided over whether the claims are credible, embellished or simply cooked up.

    The Ministry of Defence is looking into the post in which someone claimed that he managed to get himself discharged from NS. Meanwhile, the administrators of the "SAF Confessions" page, which carried the post, have distanced themselves from it, saying that it "may or may not be fictional".

    Among the sceptics is Ang Yong Guan, who was head of psychiatry at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for close to 20 years. "I'd be surprised if he had succeeded in hoodwinking everyone," said Dr Ang.

    The person had claimed that, a year before enlisting, he had embarked on a scheme to attain PES F status, used to classify men unfit for NS. He said he first had himself diagnosed with depression by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

    Then, he apparently managed to obtain a memo excusing him from cutting his hair. When the commanders insisted, he said he "curled into a ball" and sobbed till they relented.

    "What is the issue with having a haircut?" asked Dr Ang, who is now in private practice.

    He said that only when doctors suspect someone is delusional would they accept a person's claim that a haircut felt like an "attempt to kill him".

    Dr Ang added that such claims would typically be verified by admitting the patient to the SAF ward and observing him.

    "His account is one-sided and shows no attempt (by SAF) to comprehensively understand him," Dr Ang said.

    The person claimed he told a psychiatrist from IMH that "I do not want to see people in army uniform as I wish to kill them".

    Dr Ang said that such claims are likely to lead to re-diagnosis, but there was no mention of this.

    The person's claim that a young officer "immediately backed off" when yelled at also did not sit well with Dr Ang, who felt the officer would have put his foot down.

    He said that it is not easy to get downgraded to PES F status. It involves going through assessment by a medical board.

    Having said that, Dr Ang said it is possible, as claimed, that the person was sent directly to the Human Resource Institute with PES E9L9 status due to "depression".

    David Boey, who sits on the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence, found that the account was "fairly plausible", given that there was a specific timeline and sufficient detail. He also said doctors could err on the side of caution when it came to mental illnesses.

    But he also found some bits, like those claiming that he had impersonated others when consulting doctors, "far-fetched".

    "The post has data points that can prove or invalidate the story," said Mr Boey.

    Christopher Cheok, the head of psychiatry in the SAF between 2003 and 2009, said that the scenario is possible "if the person was very determined".

    He added that PES F status is given to those who have "severe" mental illness and if they pose a "risk of violence" to themselves or others.

    Dr Cheok, who heads the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said: "Many people will not want to feign mental illness as there are consequences for their job and insurance applications in future."