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(LEAD) Female soldier wins fight against military over forced discharge

All Headlines 15:24 May 23, 2008

(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks from the Army pilot, additional information)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) -- A former female Army pilot was reinstated in the military Friday after an extended legal battle against the Defense Ministry over her forced discharge following a mastectomy for breast cancer.

The end of the nearly two-year battle between Lt. Col. Pi Woo-jin and the Defense Ministry came as the ministry, after two defeats in district and appellate courts, decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court, ministry officials said.

Pi, 53, was discharged from the military in November 2006 after nearly 30 years of service as one of the country's first female helicopter pilots due to what the ministry then saw as a physical disability.

The Seoul High Court, an appellate court, on May 6 upheld a 2007 decision by a lower court that ruled against Pi's forced discharge.

"Although Pi underwent a mastectomy, there is nothing that prevents Pi from serving as an active service member, considering she made a very good recovery after the operation and that she has a 90 percent chance of a complete recovery," the court said in its ruling.

The former Army pilot passed all of the military medical examinations she took following her 2002 operation, but the ministry claimed her physical condition, apparently her lack of breasts, interfered with her performance.

With her reinstatement, Pi became the first soldier, male or female, to be reinstated after a forced medical discharge though many have challenged disability-related discharges in the past.

Ministry officials said Pi still needs to decide whether she wants to work until she reaches mandatory retirement age in September 2009 or file for early retirement.

Pi, speaking to reporters later, said she wanted to be fully reinstated as a pilot or put in a post where she can have "meaningful achievements" during the remainder of her service.

"I am still somewhat dumbfounded," she said. "I welcome the ministry's decision not only because it reinstated me as an active soldier but also because it shows a process in which the military is changing."

Friday's decision by the ministry nullified its 2006 decision to discharge Pi, and also granted her a one-time payment of 120 million won (US$115,000) to make up for lost income during the 17 months since her discharge, ministry officials said.

The ministry in August 2007 revised the law on the discharge of service members to allow those with any type of physical condition to continue serving in the military if they wish to do so and a joint review committee finds them fit to serve.

"The decision on Lt. Col. Pi's discharge was made legitimately before the law was revised, and was also reached in balance with others discharged from the military due to physical disabilities," a ministry official said.


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