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Numerous Defense Personnel Granted Early Retirement Due to Mental Illness

A staggering 40,000 defense personnel were granted early retirement in the past three years, even as another 1,415 were discharged due to mental illnesses,// parliament was informed Thursday.

Of those who retired early, 2,064 were officers of the army, navy and air force and 37,865 were personnel below officer rank (PBOR) for a total of 39,929, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said during question hour in the Lok Sabha.

Giving the break up, the minister said 1,119 army officers had retired early during 2004-06, against 489 in the air force and 456 in the navy.

In the PBOR category, 35,255 army personnel had been granted premature retirement, against 2,578 in the air force and 31 in the navy, the minister added.

According to Antony, the main reasons identified for personnel seeking premature retirement were supersession in promotion, or being placed in a permanently low medical category.

This apart, early retirement was sought on compassionate grounds such as to look after ailing parents/children/siblings, or to look after ancestral property and attend to litigation, or due to failure to acquire minimum qualifications required for promotion or due to "increase in employment opportunities on the civil side", Antony added.

Antony also detailed the measures being taken to address this issue.

These included allowing time-bound promotions up to the rank of colonel and equivalent, creating or upgrading posts up to the rank of colonel and equivalent to hasten promotions, and the creation of the rank of time-scale colonel and equivalent for superseded officers.

This apart, additional accommodation was being created for married officers and professional courses were being conducted for retiring officers, Antony added.

In reply to a separate question, the minister said 1,263 personnel from the army, 123 from the air force and 29 from the navy had been discharged during 200 4-06 "on account of mental disorders, including cases of psychosis, neurosis, personality disorders, adjustment disorders, alcohol dependence syndrome and depression".

The armed forces have witnessed a spurt in suicides - 21 this year alone - prompting the defense ministry to take a series of counter measures including counseling and yoga classes to help soldiers cope with stress.

"Training capsules on relaxation exercises including yoga and meditation have been introduced," even as officers at various levels had been asked to identify and counsel soldiers "who are at higher risk of combat stress", Antony had told parliament last month.

This apart, religious teachers, junior commissioned officers (JCOs) of the Army Education Corps (AEC) and regimental medical officers have been identified as psychological health mentors, trained in psychiatry and have been posted at various units, he added.

Antony said that 50 JCOs of the Army Medical Corps (AMC) have been trained as counselors and posted to the northern and eastern commands where troops are engaged in counter-insurgency operations.

The armed forces witnessed 146 suicides in 2006, with 120 in the army, 24 in the air force and two in the navy and the coast guard.

There were 120 suicides, including 15 failed attempts in 2005. These included 92 - as also the failed attempts - in the army, 23 in the air force and five in the navy and coast guard.

The year 2004 witnessed 118 suicides - 100 in the army, 13 in the air force and five in the navy and its sister service.

Source-IANS/V
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