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Outcry grows over W5,000 war compensation

Veterans Affairs Ministry, Defense Ministry under fire for ‘passing the buck’

Kim Myung-bok, 63, is enraged when reminded of the havoc the Korean War wreaked on her family. Her brother and two sisters died during the 1950-53 conflict.

To add to her agony, after years of struggling to receive proper compensation for her brother, killed in action in November 1950, the government in April gave notice that it would offer her only 5,000 won ($4.36) for his sacrifice.

The Ministry of Veterans and Patriots Affairs decided to give that amount without adjusting for the current currency value as stated in a presidential war-dead compensation rule, which took effect in 1951 and was abolished in 1974.

“I fainted many times in a fit of uncontrollable anger when the notice was delivered. What is the government doing for the young soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice?” Kim told The Korea Herald.

“It is okay that the government does not take into account what trials and tribulations my family went through. But it should not treat the war dead in this manner with that money.”

Kim applied for state compensation for her brother in December 2008. Government officials at first rejected her application as the five-year legal period for the application had already ended. She spent nearly 10 million won during the grueling legal battle.

Her father died of a chronic illness in May 1950, a month before the fratricidal war broke out. Her brother Yong-gil ― then an 18-year-old high school student who was to bring home the bacon for her family ― was abruptly conscripted. Her two sisters were killed in an explosion while her family was moving to take refuge in safer areas.

Her mother suffered mental illnesses due to the shock of losing three children. Kim had to take care of her mother, moving from house to house to beg for food when she was in her teens. Kim, of course, could not afford any formal education.

“I can say how much trouble I went through due to the death of my brother, perhaps for hours and hours. He was a very promising student when a very few went to high school at the time of poverty,” she said.

“I slept on the streets for many days hopelessly at the time with my sick mother who lost her memories. My life at the time was a succession of hardships.”

After her mother died in 1996, she embarked on the long job to find her brother who had not been heard from until then. In 2006, she discovered her brother had been laid to rest at a national cemetery in Daejeon after he died during a battle in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province.

“I contacted the MVPA and the Ministry of National Defense so many times to find out about my brother, but they just repeated they could not find him as I did not have his military serial number,” she said. “Without much expectation, I went to the cemetery and found my brother there after a decade of my struggle.”

After her story was reported in the media, public outrage surged with many upbraiding the government for “shameful” compensation. They also pointed out that the two ministries were “passing the buck” to each other rather than seeking proper measures.

The MVPA had argued that the MND is in charge of drawing up the standards for military compensation. The MND had claimed that all issues concerning the provision of compensation money should be handled by the MVPA.

At a government meeting on Tuesday decided to devise a guideline this week that will ensure better compensation, officials said.

By Song Sang-ho (