Dozens of Israeli Soldiers Who Fought in Gaza War Now Suffering From PTSD

Medical Corps opens evaluation center where soldiers with the disorder can speak with therapists.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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IDF troops stand atop a tank near the Gaza border, July 29, 2014.
IDF troops stand atop a tank near the Gaza border, July 29, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Dozens of Israel Defense Forces soldiers who fought in Operation Protective Edge over the summer have been recognized by the army’s mental-health department as having symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, and a few have even been discharged due to mental distress.

During the fighting, the army’s Medical Corps stationed officers from the mental-health department at the staging area for the combat soldiers in the regular army and in the reserves.

A Palestinian man salvages belongings from damaged buildings in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood, Gaza, July 27, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Hundreds of soldiers went to mental-health experts for an average of eight hours of therapy after showing signs of shellshock. And according to Medical Corps statistics presented to a hearing of the Knesset’s IDF Personnel and Training Subcommittee, headed by MK Omer Barlev (Labor), roughly 80 percent of these soldiers went back to the battlefield.

“During the fighting, the mental-health officers talked with them at all kinds of exit points, or spoke with them after high-intensity incidents," said Col. Keren Ginat, director of the army’s mental-health department. Such situations might include the fighting in Shujaiyeh, where some of the bloodiest battles of the Gaza war took place.

"The purpose of the conversations was to give them encouragement so they could keep on,” Ginat said. “We try not to take soldiers out of the combat area because to do so is to create a pause at the worst possible point. As a psychiatrist, I am concerned with the combat soldier’s health.”

Officials of the Medical Corps spoke by phone with about 1,000 soldiers and officers who were wounded in the fighting, to see whether they suffered from mental distress. According to Col. Ginat, half the people identified as suffering from distress refused to appear for a continuing assessment by army officials.

The Medical Corps created an evaluation center for soldiers who had fought in the operation and had PTSD. The center is open this week and both regular-army soldiers and reservists are invited to go there to talk with senior therapists and fill out questionnaires about the issue.

About half the people who have gone to the center so far have been reservists, and about a third have been regular army troops. Statistics from the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department indicate that, so far, 463 people have applied for recognition as disabled soldiers following the fighting in Gaza. Ninety-three of the applications also note symptoms linked to PTSD.

After three members of the Givati Brigade who had fought in Operation Protective Edge committed suicide, the mental-health officers were called upon to give workshops to the combat battalions and companies.

“I don’t like to call it `the phenomenon of the suicides,’ but three soldiers committing suicide after the operation is a significant event," said Col. Ginat. "I can’t tell, and I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to tell, whether it is linked to Operation Protective Edge or not, but we treated it as though it was. The U.S. and Britain report an increased incidence of suicide after wars. We haven’t seen that.”

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