K-pop boy band EXO’s Baekhyun was compelled to reveal his medical condition because of his military service.
On April 2, Baekhyun announced that he will be enlisting in the Korean military on May 6, his 29th birthday.
It was also reported that upon enlistment, he will be undergoing basic military training for three weeks before starting his duty as a social service worker or social worker (previously called public service worker), an alternative military service, instead of being an active duty soldier.
Korean media outlet Dispatch reported on April 3 that Baekhyun was classified by the Military Manpower Administration (MMA), which supervises conscription in Korea, as a social service worker because he has hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, according to the Mayo Clinic website, “is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones.” Some of its symptoms and signs include fatigue, muscle weakness, pain, stiffness or swelling in the joints, depression, impaired memory and enlarged thyroid gland (goiter).
The enforcement decree of Korea’s Military Service Act, the law that governs conscription, states that the work areas of social service workers are: “1. Social welfare duties: Assistance for operation of social welfare facilities, assistance for social welfare duties of local governments, etc.; 2. Health and medical service duties: Assistance for duties of protection and improvement of national health, such as prevention of epidemics, food sanitation, etc.; assistance for duties of rescue of patients, such as emergency relief, patient transport, etc.,” according to the Korea Legislation Research Institute.
They are also assigned in “3. Educational and cultural duties: Assistance for learning, such as guidance to courses, specialties and aptitude; assistance for activities of infants and young children with disabilities in kindergartens and students with disabilities in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools; assistance for management of cultural properties, such as palaces and royal mausoleums; 4. Environmental and safety duties: Assistance for environmental protection and surveillance, assistance for safety management of disasters, etc.; 5. Administrative duties: Assistance for general administration, assistance for security of administrative agencies, etc.”
Baekhyun underwent draft physical examination and due to hypothyroidism, it was determined that he was not qualified to serve as an active duty soldier and instead, he was classified under Grade 4, or supplementary or alternative military service which includes social service worker .
He submitted to the MMA his medical records for the past year and he received Grade 4, the lowest rating among the assessment criteria for hypothyroidism.
An MMA official was quoted as saying, “In case of hypothyroidism, we examine it based on three-stage standards. If there is a proof of drug treatment for at least six months, it is equivalent to Grade 4.”
The report stated that Baekhyun learned about his thyroid problem in high school. He has been treated for hypothyroidism for a long time, he undergoes blood tests once a year and regularly takes medicine to manage it. In severe situations, his neck and face swell up.
According to EXO fans, Baekhyun posted on EXO’s fan app the reason why he decided to reveal his medical condition.
“The reason I decided that I should reveal it after not revealing it until now is that there are many people who are asking Eris [nickname for EXO fans] why I am a social service worker, and there are many people who are curious about it, and there are some people who would be questioning if it is some kind of preferential treatment or not. When I thought about it, thankfully, Dispatch asked me and I answered,” he said. “Because of this thyroid problem, I almost failed to debut as EXO.”
Hypothyroidism is one of the 411 medical and physical conditions and diseases used by the MMA in evaluating conscripts. Each condition and disease is evaluated based on the degree of illness, and mental and physical disability.
Under hypothyroidism in the guidelines, there are three levels of assessment. If there are no symptoms for more than six months after the end of treatment and the test results are normal, or if the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test reading is below 10 ulU/ml, one is classified under Grade 2, or active duty. If the TSH reading is more than 10 ulU/ml or if medication history has been confirmed to be more than six months, an individual like in Baekhyun’s case is placed in Grade 4, or alternative service.
A TSH test measures the level of that hormone in blood and “a high TSH level indicates that the thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone (primary hypothyroidism),” according to the American Thyroid Association website.
Under Korea’s Military Service Act, doctors determine the physical grades of enlisting citizens.
“Those whose physical and psychological constitution is healthy enough to perform active or supplemental service shall be determined at Grade I, II, III or IV, according to their physical and psychological condition,” the law stated, according to the Korea Legislation Research Institute.
If an individual is classified in Grades 1 to 3, he will serve as an active duty soldier, and Grade 4 is for the alternative service.
“Those incapable of entering active or supplemental service, but capable of entering the second citizen service, shall be determined at Grade V. Those incapable of performing military service due to any disease or mental or physical incompetence shall be determined at Grade VI; Those unable to be graded according to subparagraphs 1 through 3, due to any disease or mental or physical incompetence, shall be determined at Grade VII,” according to the law.
The service period for social service workers is two years and is being gradually shortened to 21 months.