Avigdor Kahalani, are you concerned about proposed reforms to further delimit who is a disabled veteran?
For the last three years, Kahalani has been the chairman of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers.
The Disabled IDF Veterans Association has complained a lot over the last year and a half that it was not represented among the members of the Goren Committee, which reviewed eligibility criteria for Defense Ministry assistance for disable veterans.
Brig. Gen. (ret. ) Avigdor Kahalani was the closest thing there was to a representative of disabled Israel Defense Forces veterans on the seven-member committee chaired by retired Judge Uri Goren. Kahalani, 66, was seriously injured during the Six-Day War, when he served as the commander of a tank company.
He earned the distinguished service medal for his fighting and seven years later received the medal of valor for his command of Battalion 77 in the battles to halt the advance of Syrian tanks across the Bekaa in the Golan Heights.
Later on, he served as commander of the 7th Brigade, commander of the Golan Division, and as commander of the IDF's staff and command college. After his discharge from the IDF, he was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Labor Party, established the short-lived Third Way Party as a representative of which he served as minister of internal security, headed the Defense Ministry's social security department and for the last three years has been the chairman of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers.
Avigdor Kahalani, aren't you concerned about the Goren Committee's recommendations to substantially reduce the definitions of who is a disabled IDF veteran? Are you not creating a situation where in effect there will be first class disabled veterans and second class disabled veterans?
Not at all. You have to recall that there is not a single country in the world that provides more than the State of Israel does. We give more than the Americans, on several levels. Most countries give their disabled army veterans a one-time payment and tell them to go home.
So why was there a need to revise the criteria to be eligible for the status of disabled IDF veteran?
We saw that there was a qualitative difference, when 40 percent of the disabled resulted from accidents, and 40 percent are disabled due to illness and only 20-something percent are disabled as a result of operational activity. This is a situation that cannot continue. Most disabled veterans are people for whom the Disabled Persons Law was not written. And we see an upward trend in the number of requests for recognition due to illnesses that are typical of senior citizens and even older people in a curve that is simply frightening. We reached the conclusion that the pipeline of disabled IDF veterans is encompassing entire groups who were not the focus of the legislature's intention. This led to a cheapening of the brand known as a disabled IDF veteran. Every person feels a need, before he takes off his uniform, to look for increased blood pressure or a chest problem. These are things that happen to every normal person and there is no reason that they should be recognized as disabled IDF veterans because of that. And this applies not only to the IDF; also included in this are the police, and the Prison Service, the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service. Go out and find out how many tens of thousands of people in uniform there are who are eligible to sue the state.
Nevertheless members of the security forces are very concerned about the decision that only a soldier who contracts "a unique and unusual disease" that is related to his military service shall be recognized as a disabled IDF veteran.
They are people who are comparable to other civil servants. Like an Interior Ministry employee. What is the difference between a Shin Bet secretary who is on the way home and is in an accident or one who develops high blood pressure that they should both receive the same service from the National Insurance Institute? A disabled IDF veteran is someone who was injured or attacked as part of his service. I want the Defense Ministry's rehabilitation department to devote more attention to genuine disabled veterans who need care; people who need medical review committees; people who are suffering from shell shock.
The department is collapsing and it cannot carry on due to the overload. We want to have a situation where a disabled IDF veteran who defended Israel with his body and soul is eligible and will not in any way be harmed. But a person who has decided that this is his career path and cannot handle the pressure, he will be considered the same as a civil servant who receives treatment through the National Insurance Institute. This is morally and ethically just.
What about the argument that the new rules will only lead to hundreds of lawsuits against the Defense Ministry to gain recognition as a disabled IDF veteran?
Already now there are thousands of suits pending against the rehabilitation department. And the judges are deliberating what to do because the law does not stipulate clear rules and therefore the Defense Ministry is spending millions on trials and suits. Everyone files a complaint. There is an extensive array of professionals offering legal services in this area. ... The regulations we are suggesting simplify the matter.
What was your intention?
They are becoming corrupt because this money turns into the goal. A person wants to obtain [the benefits] and therefore searches for all kinds of ways. Our role is also to protect the public coffers. Nevertheless, we did not check how much money would be saved by every decision of ours and we did not consider this from purely financial perspectives. We made moral decisions. It took a lot of courage to do what we did and also to be professionals in this field. I am around disabled IDF veterans all the time. I come to Beit Halochem [disabled soldiers rehabilitation center] and they stand there all day and attack us. I tell them, Israel gave us more than any other sector received and we were not abandoned.
What about the many complaints from disabled IDF veterans regarding the attitude of the Defense Ministry's rehabilitation department toward them?
The rehabilitation department has good people who are besmirched constantly because they are just asked to do more and more. The Disabled IDF Veterans Association, in my opinion, has no real complaints against the committee. They are just saying that they were not updated. It is of interest to me, but the rehabilitation department should also undergo a revolution. It must be revolutionized because the disabled veterans do not feel good when dealing the department.
You compared the situation of the IDF to that of the police, Shin Bet, Mossad and Prison Service. Does it seem fair to you that in all these places, people will not receive recognition as disabled IDF veterans for their high-pressure work?
Does a person in the Prisons Service devote his life more so than a Defense Ministry worker or one of the workers here at the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers? Has someone who was injured in a tank not had his rights affected forever? That is whom the law is referring to.