We like to think compulsory National Service (NS) betters us. It teaches us responsibility, doubles our chest hair, and shows us how to add creative flair when swearing. But at its core, NS is a sacrifice. It’s not so much beneficial as it is plain mandatory (like every corporate training workshop ever). Fortunately, there are some bonuses that could benefit both country and conscript. Here’s the ones they should consider:
1. More Conversions to Civilian Licenses / Certificates
This already happens for some military vocations, like drivers. If drivers clock enough miles during NS, they can convert their military driving license to a civilian license. It’s a great idea: We help the country out, and we’re indirectly improving our future workforce.
Now if it were up to MoneySmart, we’d make every effort to widen the range of civilian licenses / certificates that NS men get. That can be done by (1) getting organizations to recognize military licenses / certificates, or (2) sending NS men straight to civilian organizations for specific forms of training. For example:
- Let clerks get secretarial certification from a commercial organization
- Get the physical training instructors recognized certification, from sports or the relevant health institutes
- Get logistics certification for store men
Granted, it might mean tweaking the vocational training courses. But this sort of certification comes in handy for job searches after NS. Also, it raises employability for army regulars, should they leave for a civilian line after a long contract.
2. Increase HDB Eligibility for NS Men
Sure, two years of crawling under concertina wire and wiping your ass with leaves sucks. But you’re rewarded! You have something to be proud of: A home to call your own, one that you’ve trained to def…oh wait.
Nope. Your odds of getting a home (read: HDB flat) are pretty much the same as anyone who didn’t do NS. You have to ballot for it, and your chances are the same as theirs.
Now how’s that fair?
I mean, some of us had to eat things they don’t even allow you to touch at the Night Safari. And we commit to coming back periodically for reservist training. We do it out of love for country, and to defend a home that we apparently might not have. Not without a damned long wait.
Again, I know NS is ultimately an obligation and not a benefit. But in the interest of fairness and the nation’s overall morale, can’t we at least tweak the ballots to favour the people who’ve served?
3. Extended Medical Coverage
NS has a high safety margin (or so I was told. Repeatedly, when they put the live grenade in my hand). Most Singaporeans don’t come out of it with lasting injuries.
But let’s look at the minority cases. Let’s say (touch wood and bathe in flowers) someone comes out with chronic pain, or is missing some part of his body that doctors agree should really be there. Now his medical expenses are covered during NS, but what about after?
The condition requires constant medication, extending for a time beyond NS. Or the injury may manifest its full effects later. I have, for example, an acquaintance who lost his hearing in one ear. This happened due to an insect bite during NS, but the full consequences weren’t understood till after his run-out date (His diminished hearing was a gradual process).
He had to deal with the subsequent medical bills on his own.
Now I’m not suggesting the SAF pay for every conceivable expense. But they should pay (or provide subsidies) for ongoing injuries incurred as a part of training, even after the run-out date. Examples would include slipped discs, or fractures that require a second or third operation.
4. Subsidized Private Insurance
NS men do have an insurance package worked out for them. But it can be taken further: How about working with big private insurers (AIA, Prudential, etc.) so NS men have access to the same policies offered to the public, but at lower prices?
There are thousands of NS Men conscripted every year. Due to sheer bulk, there’s plenty of room for lower premiums. And if the armed forces is willing to pitch in further, they could subsidize policies for the duration of NS.
It’s win-win all around: NS men can get a policy they actually want, the armed forces will have less of a headache (when its soldiers are properly insured), and insurance salesmen can start picking out their BMWs.
Speaking of insurance matters…did you know we spend a lot of time telling people how to get better policies? Follow us on Facebook, we’ll tell you how.
5. Educational Subsidies
I’m not talking about military scholarships and bonds. I’m suspicious of those. When I was 18 I couldn’t decide which flavour of popcorn I liked, let alone whether to be a soldier for six years.
That said, it’s obvious that soldering gets in the way of studying. Our boys will lose two years of schooling, which is bad enough. But on top of that, salary during NS is an indulgent $480 to $1,000 a month. On that pay scale, McDonald’s is like a five star restaurant.
It also doesn’t help after NS, when the typical diploma or degree course is upward of $15,000. Now considering NS men are already stalled by two years, how about a few education subsidies? It might stop them delivering pizzas to pay off the university, and nab them a degree sooner.
Even a 5% to 10% tuition fee reduction, for the first year, would make a huge difference. It might even reduce the number of deferment requests, and soften the “waste of time” arguments.