The Campaign That Follows the Battle: Getting Disability for War Wounds

Itai Ziv suffers 29 percent disability after shrapnel embedded in his back during Operation Pillar of Defense, but State refuses to give him disability.

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Itai ZivCredit: Gil Eliyahu

An Israel Defense Forces reservist injured by rocket fire during Operation Pillar of Defense is not receiving medical treatment from the Defense Ministry, Haaretz has learned. According to Itai Ziv, the injury has significantly damaged his capacities: He suffers from pain, cannot walk long distances, or perform tasks like he was able to before the injury. According to Dr. Tal Eliyahu, an orthopedic surgeon, Ziv suffers from 29 percent disability, although the rehabilitation department at the Defense Ministry determined that Ziv has only 6 percent disability.

A letter Ziv received from the Defense Ministry in response to his claims last December reads “in accordance to your level of disability, you are not eligible for monthly compensation or any other services from the rehabilitation department, including medical treatments, which will be dispensed by your HMO.”

Ziv, who was part of the emergency call up in November 2012, was injured during a rocket barrage on the Tzeelim base in the Negev, during a training exercise in preparation for a ground invasion of Gaza. As there were no fortified structures in the area, the soldiers were ordered to enter their armored personnel carriers. Ziv was injured by shrapnel from a rocket that exploded close to him and his fellow soldiers. Aside from Ziv, another reservist from engineering battalion 924 was injured as well. First Lt. Boris Yarmolink was killed after being hit in the neck with shrapnel.

In the injury report filed after the fact, Ziv testified “there was a siren, we went into the APCs, and 20 seconds later, a rocket fell a meter from our APC. Shrapnel hit my back, some was just minor, but one piece of shrapnel got stuck in my back.”

According to the disability law, “every disabled individual will receive medical treatment at the expense of the state in accordance with regulations, for diseases or injures received or that intensified during service, or that occurred afterwards as a result of service.” A revision to the law, however, determined that anyone who is labeled at less than 10 percent disability will not be eligible for medical treatment at the expense of the Defense Ministry. The law does not provide definitions for how the disabled person must be injured during their service, either for trauma sustained, or during operational activity. Thus, even a reservist injured during reserve duty by rocket shrapnel is not eligible to receive medical treatment from the body that is meant to treat IDF disabled veterans, and was sent instead to his local HMO.

Every year, the Defense Ministry receives over 5,000 new claims to recognize injuries sustained during IDF service. Defense Ministry data from 2012 shows that more requests were turned down than accepted during that year. According to policy, the compensation committee is supposed to contact the individual’s unit to receive a factual account of the incident in question before receiving a medical opinion on the connection between the incident report and the injury sustained. Then, the committee of three doctors decides to either accept or turn down the request. Sometimes the Defense Ministry employs private investigators, both during the recognition process, as well during the rehabilitation process. According to information published by Haaretz, the defense establishment pays over 2.8 million shekels ($800,000) every year for private investigations, which include clarifying the veracity of disabled persons’ claims, as well as investigations into requests for exemption from military service on religious grounds.

According to figures from the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation department, as of March 2013, there are roughly 56,000 individuals recognized as having between 20 percent and 100 percent disability. The Defense Ministry is responsible for treatment of injured IDF veterans, including regular soldiers, reservists and career soldiers, as well as individuals who served in the Israeli Prison Service, the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the Israel Police, the Border Patrol, the Knesset guard, the South Lebanon Army, government sanctioned security squads as well as civilian IDF security cooperation coordinators.

Most of the recognized disabled veterans, 54 percent, sustained their injuries during compulsory service, another 16 percent were recognized as disabled on their own, and 22 percent were IDF reservists. The remaining disabled individuals were injured during service in the other security bodies.

According to internal orders from the rehabilitation department at the Defense Ministry, “use of investigation into those eligible for compensation is a severe tactic, to be used only when there is reasonable suspicion of fraud.” The use of private investigators against those seeking to be recognized as disabled veterans shows the drastic change in behavior at the department: More and more individuals apply for disability due to injuries they sustained (or didn’t) during military service or service in other security frameworks, but it seems that the department’s apprehensions also apply to those who were injured during operational activity.

Officials within the rehabilitation department have identified a “central problem” in the fact that most of those who have been recognized as disabled veterans in recent years did not sustain their injuries during operational activity in either military or security service. According to the latest Defense Ministry data, only a third of disabled veterans sustained their injury during operational activity, while the rest were recognized as disabled for diseases (28 percent) they sustained during service, accidents, including car accidents (38 percent), as well as injuries sustained during vacation (1 percent.)

This shows, according to an official with the rehabilitation department, that the fact that the department deals primarily in treating “those disabled and injured by work accidents and disease prevents the department from turning most of its resources towards those disabled veterans from military activity, and the families of fallen soldiers, which was its original purpose.”

In response to inquiries, a representative for the Defense Ministry stated that “the individual in questioned was examined by the medical committee, and his level of disability was determined to be six percent. At this level, according to the law, treatment is relegated to the various HMOs. With regards to the level of disability, any individual who does not concur with the medical committee’s decisions is eligible to appeal through the process set by the laws and regulations to the disability committee, which thoroughly investigates each and every case, all within the timeframe set by the disability laws. Our office has no information on any appeal filed by the reservist in question. As such, any disabled veteran who believes that their medical condition has changed and their level of disability does not accurately reflect their condition is invited to ask for an examination by the medical committee every six months.”

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