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Military Exemption for Vision Problems

Posted September. 21, 2010 11:25,   


Strabismus, or "cock eye," is a condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned with each other or eyesight in each eye differs significantly. The medical term refers to eyes in which the degree of inflection of the right and left eyes are different, or inflective angles differ and thus the size of inflected images reflected in retinas differ though the type of inflection is the same. An example is a patient who is farsighted in his right eye measuring +1.0 diopter and shortsighted in his left eye measuring -2.0 diopter, or vice versa.

The cause of cock eye is often genetic. Symptoms occasionally occur when one eye suffers a problem due to acquired eye disease. When strabismus is diagnosed before a person reaches ages six to eight, a point in time when eyesight largely develops, the disease can be corrected through eyeglasses designed to suppress the use of the eye with good eyesight and increase the use of the other eye. When discovered in adulthood, however, strabismus is difficult to correct. Kim Cheol-woo, a director at Hangil Ophthalmic Hospital in Incheon, said corrective measures can only help the patient get accustomed to capturing images of an object only with one eye.

In 1972, Prime Minister-designate Kim Hwang-shik was exempted from military service due to strabismus diagnosed in a medical checkup for the draft. The Defense Ministry`s Executive Order 213 announced in 1971 says, "When the gap in the degree of inflection in the two eyes is two diopters or more in a patient with strabismus, the person is exempt from military service." At the time of the checkup in 1972, Kim was minus seven in one eye and minus two in the other, resulting in a difference of five. In a medical examination for his appointment as a judge two years later, however, he showed little difference with 0.1 and 0.2, respectively. Moreover, when he had to get a reexamination of his physical condition for military service in 1970 and 1971, strabismus was not even specified as a cause for the recheck-up. Hence, how he was diagnosed as a cock eye patient in 1972 and his exemption from military service is causing controversy.

Kim said, "I easily passed the medical checkup in 1974 because the test was conducted to appoint civil servants, and the examiners went easy on me and only asked me if I was okay wearing eyeglasses." He said if measured with a machine, he is still diagnosed as a strabismus patient. The criteria for eyesight in physical checkups for the draft were toughened in 1999. A person whose eyesight difference is five diopters or more is rated grade 4 and required to serve as a non-active member for public service, though not in active duty. One whose eyesight difference is below is rated grade 3 and must serve as an active soldier. The public does not feel comfortable hearing that Kim is under fire for exemption from military duty around the time of his appointment as a judge, as was the case for ruling Grand National Party Chairman Ahn Sang-soo.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)