Policy change in South Korea expedites ex gratia payments
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — South Korea and U.S. Forces Korea have agreed to measures that will speed advance payments to victims of accidents involving the U.S. military.
The payments — known as ex gratia — can be given in advance of a formal filed claim. They are given to cover immediate medical or funeral costs, said Lt. Col. Mike Graham, chief of claims for USFK. ex gratia is allowed under the 1942 Foreign Claims Act, which establishes rules for how the military compensates people in foreign countries, Graham said.
The payment, however, is not required under law, Graham added. A victim must request it and his or her need will be evaluated, he said.
Payments are made only for nonduty-related claims, Graham said. For example, if a servicemember caused an accident while off duty but had no insurance, the victim may be eligible for an advance ex gratia payment. Victims of accidents caused by servicemembers on duty are not eligible for ex gratia payments; they must go through the normal claims process.
Victims seeking ex gratia payments also can file formal claims, he said. Any ex gratia payments would be subtracted from their final settlements.
U.S. law allows for advance ex gratia payments. But “the problem with the claims process,” Graham said, “is it has to go through the ROK bureaucracy first.” Victims must file for the advance payments through South Korea’s government, and people have waited up to two months before a payment was made, he said.
Under the new agreement, South Korea’s government will create a new form to be used when applying for an advance payment, Graham said. The South Korean government should submit that form to USFK within 48 hours, he said; USFK then will evaluate the claim.
Officials also agreed to do an information blitz, publishing pamphlets and circulars, to increase awareness of how the process works, Graham said.
The measure is one of several worked out by the Status of Forces Agreement Special Joint Task Force. Since December, the group has looked for ways to better implement the 1966 agreement. The SOFA covers how U.S. servicemembers are treated under South Korean law, including customs regulations and criminal jurisdiction.
The Special Joint Task Force was formed after South Korean civic groups complained the SOFA was unfair. Moves to refine the agreement also were prompted by an armored vehicle accident that killed two 13-year-old South Korean girls.
“This particular agreement is one of several initiatives in order to address all of the concerns arising out of the tragic accident that occurred June 13 last year,” said Robert T. Mounts, special assistant for international relations and U.S. SOFA secretary.
In the past, Graham said, some victims and their families refused to take advance payments, believing it might lessen the criminal sentence given someone charged in the accident.
Over the past five years, 160 cases were eligible for advance ex gratia but it was given in just three, Graham said. The reason, he said: Even though they were told of the payments, few people requested them.
Graham said he hopes “they will see that this is something they can trust.” In theory, he said, people could see money as soon as 96 hours after an incident.