When immigrant Yoni Cooper got married a few months into his IDF service, little did he realize the economic implications. "Married or not, I'm still a lone soldier," he fumed this week, nearly two years after he left the army. "My family is still in America, and the fact that I have a wife just makes it worse, I should be getting more money, because I now have more responsibility, not less."
Instead, the paratrooper lost his status as a lone soldier and with it more than half of his pay, in accordance with army regulations.
A lone soldier receives a base salary of NIS 704 a month, compared to NIS 352 a regular soldier makes. Together with rent assistance and extra payments from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, lone soldiers can earn up to NIS 1,400 a month, depending on what unit they serve in. After marrying, a soldier is no longer eligible for lone soldier pay but rather a monthly subsidy called tashmash, a Hebrew acronym for family payments.
Family payments range from NIS 2,800 to 4,000, varying according to the spouse's income.
Cooper, who says the death of a good friend of his in the 2006 Lebanon War inspired him to leave "my job, my apartment, my car, my whole life" in Los Angeles, entered a paratroop unit within two months of moving to Israel. "I was 24 years old, if I wasn't going to do it now I never will," Cooper recalled last week.
A few months into his service, the Philadelphia native married Eliana, whom he had met in Israel. He says the army informed him after leaving him in the dark whether he would receive the family payment to balance out the loss incurred by losing lone soldier status, that his young family did not qualify - for no other reason than his wife was a student.
"My wife was studying for a graduate degree in art therapy, and they said, right now the law is that for art therapy you don't need a graduate degree, you need a certificate," Cooper told Anglo File.
"They said she could work, so we're not eligible for tashmash. That was it, I'm out of luck. Because my wife is studying and I'm married now, I'm losing thousands of shekels. I spoke several organizations asking for help, but in the end I gave up. There was nothing I could do."
These complicated eligibility rules have many lone soldiers like Cooper who tie the knot face financial difficulties, because of complicated eligibility rules for family payments and the army's rigid interpretation thereof, according to several Anglo soldiers and professionals dealing with lone soldiers.
"Sometimes I'm amazed at what I can do to help soldiers, but one of the subjects that I could never help soldiers with is tashmash. I could never figure out what are their rules and their rights," said Tziki Aud, who worked with lone soldiers for nearly two decades, first for the Jewish Agency and now as senior advisor for the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center, which has branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa and helps immigrants overcome bureaucratic hurdles and cope with everyday problems. "Whenever a married person comes to me, I say I'm sorry, I don't even know how to start helping you. I think even the army doesn't know."
Forced to leave early
A senior officer dealing with individual well-being in the army's logistics corps told Haaretz that family payments are dealt out in accordance to guidelines set by the government, and that cases involving lone soldiers who do not match the guidelines are automatically forwarded to the appeals committee. She did not elaborate on the nature of the guidelines.
Cooper says he used money saved up while working in Los Angeles enabled him to complete his two-year service. But others immigrants who got married during or before their service told Anglo File they were forced to cut to leave the army earlier than they had planned because of financial hardships.
While not blaming the IDF for breaking any rules, several interviewees said the army kept them unclear or misled them about what they would receive, and interpreted the regulations without showing any flexibility toward highly motivated immigrant soldiers.
According to people working with lone soldiers, this problem has recently become worse, leading many soldiers despaired and helpless.
The IDF's senior logistics officer rejected claims yesterday that the lone soldier support has become less accessible, saying the logistics corps has actually set up a special support center for lone soldiers, and that their recruitment and well-being was a top priority with the IDF.
"Many people never receive family payments for small-minded reasons," said Aud, of the Lone Soldier Center, "and even if the payments start, they sometimes stop for inexplicable reasons, and in order to renew it soldiers have to go through the most terrible bureaucratic Via Dolorosa."
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