Press briefing on veterans and patriots
Date: August 14, 2012
Venue: Kim Koo Museum and Library
Patriots of the Korea Liberation Society, veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and soldiers, police officers, and independence movement patriots, I thank you for joining us today.
Today, I would like to announce the Seoul Comprehensive Plan for the War Veterans. Before today, policies for veterans and patriots were the responsibility of the central government, and were not among the main duties of the local government. However, there is a special reason why the Seoul Metropolitan Government has prepared this event today.
On Memorial Day, in June, I visited the house of patriot Seo Sang-gyo, who is also here with us today. I have never felt as sorry as I did that day. Mr. Suh is the first member of the Korea Liberation Society, and he sacrificed everything he had for the independence of our country. There are 43 patriots like Mr. Seo still living in Seoul today. The Republic of Korea stands here today because of people like him, but for too long, we have forgotten them. I also visited Mr. Kang Mun-gu, a Vietnam War veteran still suffering from exposure to toxic defoliants some 40 years ago. He is a beneficiary of the national patriot pension, through which he receives KRW 180,000 per month, but the receipt of this pension makes him ineligible for the national basic livelihood security allowance. As a result, he lives day to day with considerable difficulty. This fills me with deep regret and shame.
When our country was in danger, these patriots sacrificed their lives to save it, but what is their country doing for them now? I believe we have neglected them for far too long. Perhaps it is because we regard their sacrifice and devotion as simply a chapter in our history, left behind in the past, and therefore fail to properly appreciate them.
I feel ashamed and deeply sorry. Therefore, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has decided to take action. Respecting those who protected our country and wrote a whole chapter in our history is a duty that cannot be divided between the central and local governments. Although our budget is tight, it is our solemn duty and obligation as to respect and care for our patriots and veterans. Doing so will also teach our future generations how to show their love for this country.
You are the Republic of Korea. From the Japanese occupation to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and up to the independence movement, you have put your lives on the line for our society, and you have made the country what it is today. The Seoul Master Plan for Patriots and Veterans is a proposal for these people. Mr. Seo Sang-gyo and the patriots of the period of Japanese colonization and their bereaved families; Mr. Park Won-bin, who fought in the Korean War at the tender age of 18 and is currently living on an honorary war veteran monthly allowance of KRW 180,000, and other war veterans; Mr. Lee Gyu-tae, who joined the army as a 17-year-old student and fought against the North Korean and Communist Chinese armies, and other veterans who served with distinction; Mr. Song Seong-yong, who fought in the Vietnam War, and other victims of defoliant exposure; disabled veterans; and Korea’s liberation patriots, you are the heroes and heroines of Korea today and the motivation behind the development of this masterplan.
A total of 128,175 patriots and veterans currently live in Seoul. The master plan I announce today is to show that we have not forgotten you, and that we are deeply grateful for your sacrifices. This plan is like a medal of honor from the hearts of the citizens of Seoul.
This policy for patriots and veterans is also a policy for future generations. In a survey that asked the respondents what they thought of patriots and veterans, the younger the respondents were, the more ignorant and uninterested they appeared to be. Making sure our young people know our history and are grateful to the patriots and veterans for their role in it are ways in which we can prepare for our future.
Enduring neglect and indifference, 1,029 of our patriots and veterans and their families live in Seoul in near poverty. Helping these people is one of the main goals of our welfare policy to assist the more vulnerable members of our society.
This is why, after working with numerous people, we have come up with this master plan. After visiting hospitals and the homes of patriots and veterans on Memorial Day, we hosted 32 sessions of meetings with some 243 people, including the heads of patriot and veteran association branches, related experts, and patriots and veterans themselves. I am sure that you remember when we held a Listening Policy Workshop in this very place on July 17, Constitution Day. We gathered the opinions of the patriots and veterans and related associations and incorporated them into our policy. As such, they not only are the beneficiaries of this policy, but helped develop and implement it as well.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will create a city full of hope where all patriots, veterans, and citizens live happily. We will create a city where the families of our patriots and veterans are respected and honored, where they can enjoy a dignified life, stay healthy in body and mind, and live in happiness. In order to achieve these four major goals, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will adopt and implement 15 core tasks and 21 projects. Allow me to elaborate on our plans for each of these goals.
The first and foremost task is to elevate the honor of our patriots and veterans and their families. Of the 128,175 patriots and veterans living in Seoul today, about 56,000, or 44 percent, are veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Recognizing their sacrifice, we will take the lead in honoring them.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government pays an honorary war veteran monthly allowance of KRW 30,000 to every war veteran over the age of 65. Although this is severely lacking in comparison to their sacrifice and devotion to the country, it constitutes a small addition to the pension benefits paid by the central government. We will gradually increase this amount to KRW 50,000 by 2014, and continue to increase it after that. This will require a budget of KRW 25.2 billion in 2013, an increase of KRW 7.2 billion over the current budget, and KRW 33.6 billion in 2014.
There are 44 patriots living in Seoul today who took part in the independence movement to free the country from Japanese occupation. As time waits for no man, many patriots have already passed into history, and the average age of those still living is about 90. Therefore, we must begin to take action before it is too late. So, we have established an honorary allowance to make their lives a little more comfortable. Every month, they will receive KRW 100,000, and after they take their final breath, we will cover some of their funeral expenses. For those who wish it, we will put a doorplate on their front door that reads, “Home of a patriot”. It will be a sign of respect for every Seoul citizen to see. We will do our best to ensure that all young people who have been indifferent to the patriotism of these heroes can learn from their example.
On every anniversary, members of the Seoul Metropolitan Government paid visits to families of patriots and veterans to show their respect. This year, we visited 18,800 people, and starting next year, we will increase this number by 2,000 every year. Furthermore, we will seek out those who contributed to the activities of patriot and veteran associations, which support local communities and assist the families of patriots and veterans, and express our gratitude.
We will also consider the quality of life of these patriots and veterans and their families. For low-income families, we will offer a free trip across the country. Starting next year, we will send about 80 people on domestic trips every year free of charge. Also, we plan to invite arts and culture associations, including the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, to perform at the local veterans’ hall, giving them more opportunities to enjoy culture. As a start, we are going to invite some 300 patriots and veterans and their families to the Seoul Namsan Traditional Theater in September, offering them a chance to sample a range of traditional performances, including pansori (epic chant) and traditional Korean dance.
Seoul will also offer patriot and veteran families the benefit of accommodations. Considering their old age, it goes without saying that health is one of their greatest concerns. Many of those who are ill live near the VHS Medical Center in Dunchon-dong, Gangdong-gu, because they have to visit the hospital so often. Therefore, we will provide to these patriots and veterans at least 10 percent, or about 755 households, of the Bogeumjari (a kind of long-term mortgage) homes currently being constructed in the Godeok-Gangil, Ogeum, and Wirye areas by the SH Corporation, under the Seoul Metropolitan Government. The district planning will soon be approved, and the homes will be ready for occupancy by the first half of 2014. Additionally, I have heard that it is difficult for those living throughout the city or outside of Seoul to access the VHS Medical Center, as it is located at the far end of the city. So, we will build a “Patriots’ and Veterans’ House,” a more accessible residence where they can reside on a temporary basis to receive medical treatment. We will begin with two households (five occupants) in 2013, and increase that to four households (ten occupants) in 2014, after which we will gradually establish more such residences according to demand.
As mentioned previously, the average age of independence patriots still living today is around 90, and their families are also elderly citizens. We have received a request to provide them free medical care at hospitals near their homes, in addition to the five designated city hospitals, and we actively accepted this request. From next year, they will be able to freely access 25 community health centers and four additional city hospitals, thereby offering them free medical care at a total of 34 hospitals and community health centers.
We will also provide support in their day-to-day lives. In cooperation with private resources, we hope to assist some 2,000 low-income patriot and veteran households. For 500 of these households, we will cooperate with the Seoul Council on Social Welfare’s Carriage of Hope to provide essential household goods every June, the month we remember our patriots and veterans. In addition to this, we will work with various with basic food markets from January next year to provide a steady supply of food and other essential goods to 500 low-income patriot and veteran households. When you are making kimchi for the upcoming winter, I will be there, helping in any way I can.
Many of these people want assistance, but there are also some who want to be independent and self-reliant. For patriots, veterans, and the elderly who want to work, we will utilize the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s recruitment programs at public organizations to help them find suitable jobs. For instance, we will create some 1,000 new jobs for next year, including jobs as commentators in facilities related to patriots and veterans, environmental cleaners, and lecturers on the history of the independence movement.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will provide strong support to veterans’ families while leading an initiative to honor the spirit and determination of independence patriots. In Berlin, the Holocaust Memorial was built to honor the memory of the Jewish Holocaust victims and as a reminder of the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. In Japan, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a memorial for the victims of the nuclear bomb and advocates world peace. Seoul also needs a special place to honor the sacrifice and dedication of our independence patriots. Therefore, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will construct what we have tentatively called the “Hall of Fame” within the Seodaemun Independence Park. This memorial has been a long-standing wish. In the latter half of this year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, the Korea Liberation Society, and civic organizations will form the “Committee for the Construction of the Hall of Fame (tentative),” which will review the direction of the project in greater depth and oversee its implementation.
We will also construct the Seoul Veterans Hall, which has been the greatest aspiration of the members of Seoul’s veterans associations, to provide space for the nine veterans associations currently scattered across Seoul. This new facility will be a cultural complex equipped with offices and an exhibition room, displaying the history through which the veterans lived. There will also be restaurants and cafes accessible to all veterans’ families.
Furthermore, we are planning to set up a veterans’ fund that will be used to provide stability and improved welfare services for veterans and their families and support the development of veterans associations. This new fund will be included in the social welfare fund that is currently in operation, and we will discuss and carry out public fundraising activities with the Community Chest of Korea.
What if Seoul had a Yun Bong-gil Park or Student Soldier Road? After selecting locations, we plan to create such memorial spaces, including a road, to promote the history and symbolism of our patriots and veterans. We will also name public facilities, such as parks and roads, in their memory. We will start by changing the name of the Yangjae Citizens’ Forest in Yangjae-dong, Seocho-gu, where the Yun Bong-gil Memorial stands, to “Yun Bong-gil Park.” Furthermore, we are planning to appoint a veterans expert to Seoul’s Naming Committee in order to conduct a review of the naming of new parks and roads to honor patriots and veterans.
Seoul will strive to assist veterans and their families by sharing its prosperity with them. I heard that a couple of veterans associations, the Special Assignments Veterans Association and the Vietnam War Veterans Association, do not yet have offices, so we will provide them with offices next year. We will also cover some of the cost of their office operation, as well as actively support the nine veterans associations currently operating in Seoul. We also hope to have these organizations designated as businesses for the socially disadvantaged.
We will also pay special attention to wounded veterans. In particular, we will provide greater support to the Wounded Soldiers and Police Officers Welfare Center. We heard that the facility provides meals to some 1,600 people every day, including lunch for 400, but is experiencing difficulties because it does not receive any government support to provide these meals. Next year, we will provide a subsidy of KRW 40 million, which will be increased to KRW 80 million by 2014, so the Center can serve warm meals without having to worry about the cost. In addition, we will provide assistance for the reconstruction and remodeling of dilapidated buildings.
Furthermore, we are going to increase the budget to Seoul’s veteran families from the current KRW 20.3 billion to KRW 36.0 billion by 2014.
National patriots and veterans, who sacrificed their lives fighting for their country since the Japanese occupation and during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the liberation movement—you are the Republic of Korea. The Seoul Metropolitan Government remembers you, and we offer you our deepest respect.
Today, the Seoul Metropolitan Government took its first step toward providing greater compensation for your dedication and the sacrifices you have made for our society. Rome was not built in a day, and as such, today’s first steps may seem inadequate. However, our respect and efforts to remember the role played by our national patriots and veterans will continue. At this time, I would like to offer my most sincere gratitude to all national patriots and veterans for risking your lives for this country.