Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi warned Tuesday against discriminating between disabled army veterans on the basis of how they sustained their injuries. Ashkenazi was speaking before a committee looking into the assistance disabled vets receive from the defense establishment and their rights.

"Soldiers do not choose where they will serve," Ashenazi said, "and therefore there must be no distinction between [disabled] combat soldiers and those who served on the home front."

Ashkenazi advised that full equality remain the province of compulsory service, where there is no need to change current army policy. Such soldiers should continue receiving a basic stipend from the Defense Ministry and be recognized as entitled to rehabilitation for their entire lives, he suggested, unless their injury or illness stemmed from unbecoming behavior.

Similar regulations would remain in place for soldiers on reserve duty, with one reservation: In the case of illness, reserve soldiers would be recognized as disabled veterans only if a direct connection could be established between their illness and their activities in the army.

The panel looking into the subject is headed by retired judge Uri Goren.

The army chief of staff is of the opinion that two changes in the regulations are required for two different populations: those serving in the career army, and any soldier whose disability is estimated at less than 19 per cent.

Today, in the case of illness, standing army soldiers are recognized as disabled veterans only if the illness occurred during and as a result of their service. Ashkenazi recommends that such soldiers suffering illnesses (and not injuries) no longer be classed as disabled veterans, but that they file claims with the civilian National Insurance Institute.

After they are recognized by the NII, their stipends and rehabilitation will be supplied by that institution. Unusual cases of illnesses that may be directly connected to army service will be referred back to the Defense Ministry for treatment.

As to soldiers with lesser disabilities, they currently receive a one-time grant from the Defense Ministry and are treated by their health maintenance organizations, without regard to the source of the handicap.

If so recommended, the cases of soldiers injured during and as a result of army service will be treated by the Defense Ministry even for lesser injuries.

Ashkenazi said: "The IDF cannot reconcile itself to a situation in which a soldier who is injured in a purely military action is treated by an HMO, rather than receiving complete rehabilitation from the Defense Ministry."