Israel Announces Major Reforms in Wake of Disabled Army Vet's Self-immolation

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A protest demanding better treatment of disabled veterans, near the Knesset, Jerusalem. yesterday.
A protest demanding better treatment of disabled veterans, near the Knesset, Jerusalem. yesterday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

A set of reforms intended to overhaul government services for disabled Israeli army veterans is set to be presented to the cabinet for approval, three weeks after the self-immolation of a veteran set off protests calling for urgent action, according to a joint statement Thursday by the Israeli government and a veteran association.

The reforms took shape during extensive discussions between the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization non-profit and representatives of the Defense and Finance Ministries. They reforms include the allocation of a budget of 300 million shekels ($92 million) for the immediate treatment and rehabilitation of veterans of the Israel Defense Forces and defense agencies, “with an emphasis on post-trauma victims,” the ministries and veterans organization said in a statement. The Defense Ministry's veterans rehabilitation agency had initially requested 350 million shekels. 

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This will help pay for new psychological rehabilitation facilities, psychological assistance for family members, professional training courses, support groups, assistance with service dogs and a dedicated call center. Moreover, the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation agency will be bolstered with 60 new staffers, with some assigned to the IDF to facilitate coordination and information sharing, the ministries stated.

Other aspects of the reform are intended to streamline what is commonly seen as a baroque bureaucracy by easing of requirements for treatment, such as income tests, and providing legal assistance for veterans applying for recognition of disabilities.

A professional committee will also be established to examine the implementation of changes to the current system. 

The plan, known as One Heart, was first presented by the defense ministry two weeks ago in response to widespread outrage in the wake of the self-immolation of Itzik Saidian, a 26-year-old veteran of the 2014 Gaza War with post-traumatic stress disorder, on April 12.

Saidian set himself on fire outside the offices of the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation clinic to protest what he had previously described as insufficient treatment for his disability by the authorities.

Although he was recognized as a disabled veteran, it was at a level of disability that did not allow him to get all the treatment that he needed and that made him eligible for only a small monthly allowance. When he tried to obtain permission to work, in order to increase his income, he was told that any additional income would affect his disability allowance. In recent months Saidian claimed that the treatment he received did not help.

“You have half an hour to describe what you have been through in the last five years,” Saidian said during a 2019 Channel 12 interview, referring to the treatment he got from the Defense Ministry committees that decided his level of disability. “If you want attention you pay a lawyer tens of thousands of shekels.”

In light of the incident, Israeli hotline Natal, the Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, reported a 300 percent spike in calls for help.

Saidian’s self-immolation set off a series of protests by disabled veterans calling for urgent reform in the Defense Ministry’s policy. The protesters contended that the ministry’s veteran rehabilitation agency provided them with poor care, which they argued constitutes an infringement of their basic rights.

“Today we… are beginning to correct a long-standing injustice suffered by disabled IDF veterans and their families after sacrificing their bodies and souls for national security,” Idan Kleiman, chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, said on Thursday.

“All along we have fought only for what is due to the wounded [and] traumatized and all of the IDF’s disabled and handicapped, wherever they are.”

The rehabilitation agency and the review board formed with the veterans' NGO are to present a broader, more comprehensive plan within three months. Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amir Eshel said the ministry wants to create an authority to handle requests and complaints by disabled veterans, as well as a national council for those with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

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