Former IDF Officer Wins 16-year Legal Battle for Recognition of Disability

A 16-year legal battle waged by an Israel Defense Forces officer to be recognized as a disabled veteran due to an illness she contracted during her service has ended in victory for the officer.

Maya Abutbul Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal

The Defense Ministry said it would uphold the court's final decision, which came after multiple appeals.

Maya Abutbul was drafted in 1992 and served as an instructor for combat snipers. During her stint at the IDF's Adam base in the northern West Bank, she began to complain of stomach pains and diarrhea. Several months later, she was hospitalized at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a chronic intestinal disorder.

Abutbul sued the IDF, arguing that poor sanitary conditions on the base had caused the disease.

In September 1994, around the time of her release from the IDF, it was discovered that she had an abscessed ovary, which doctors treating her for Crohn's had missed. Her right ovary was removed in March 1995, along with one of her two fallopian tubes and part of her large and small intestines. Abutbul sued the army for misdiagnosis and delayed treatment.

Abutbul said her surgeon told her in 1995 that her condition should have been discovered long before and had been neglected.

"That's how it was when I was in the army," she said. "They kept giving me pills and didn't treat me seriously."

The IDF refused to recognize Abutbul's claims, saying that environmental factors like sanitary conditions don't cause Crohn's disease and that she had received proper treatment that did not cause her condition to worsen.

Abutbul appealed, but a ruling was postponed until another case involving Crohn's was decided in the High Court of Justice. That ruling, which came in 2002, stated that Crohn's disease would not be recognized as being caused by conditions during army service.

Abutbul continued to fight to have the army take responsibility for her ovarian condition. In 2004, the appeals committee of the Defense Ministry's rehabilitation department rejected her claim. She appealed to the Haifa District Court against the committee's decision, and in 2006 the court overturned the decision, ordering the case re-examined by the Defense Ministry official in charge of awarding compensation.

Abutbul was turned down again and appealed to the Haifa Magistrate's Court, which ruled in her favor last week.

The court decided that if Abutbul had been diagnosed correctly, the removal of her ovary could have been avoided, and that her medical condition was caused by her military service.

The Defense Ministry's medical committee will now decide the extent of her handicap and the amount of compensation.

Abutbul said she felt the system was trying to exhaust her and leave her penniless.

"They have no problem saying no," she said.

The Defense Ministry said the amount of time the case took was not in their control.

"The case has been through several courts that accepted the position of the rehabilitation department, and we therefore completely reject that this was a single lawsuit that supposedly took 16 years."