War Veteran - a Definition Spun Out of Control

The division receives NIS 3.6 billion annually from the security budget to treat disabled Israel Defense Forces veterans, IDF widows, orphans, and parents of the fallen. It seems there is no greater taboo in Israeli society than sacrificing the rights of those injured in war and their relatives, something that turns any debate on the enormous yet holy budget to a lost cause right from the start. This perception persists even though people both within and out of the army believe the rehabilitation division's budget has exceeded reasonable limits for some time.

An exception that touches on one central parameter is the size and quality of the population that the division takes care of. You won't find in Israel one person, including the most God-fearing clerk in the Finance Ministry, who would call for harming the rights of those injured in combat, training or activities in the territories. The taboo regarding the state's moral obligation to compensate anyone who sacrificed his or her life or health to protect its security remains. The problem is that currently only a minority of those being treated by the division answer this criterion.

In April 1974, half a year after the Yom Kippur War and after all disabled war veterans were recognized, the division treated 15,500 disabled vets. That number more than tripled to 51,000 in 30 years, though Israel was involved in only one total war, in Lebanon and two mini-wars in the territories. How did the disabled vet population grow so much? The answer lies in data provided by a Defense Ministry spokesman to TheMarker: Over two-thirds of this population suffered illnesses or were injured in traffic accidents or other accidents, including ones that took place during vacation.

The data regarding military fatalities is startling. Only 10-36 percent of soldiers who died between 1999 to 2005 were killed during military operations. Most died in road accidents, followed by suicides.

Thus, just a minority of families taken care of by the rehabilitation division currently meet the natural definition of those injured in defense of Israel. In practice, IDF soldiers are ironically not the majority population in the division. Over the years, veterans from the police, the Prisons Service, the General Security Services, the Mossad, the Foreign Ministry, Border Police, South Lebanon Army, the pre-state underground, and the Mandatory forces have all been added. Some people certainly deserve consideration for eligibility for carrying the burden of defense for Israel's security alongside IDF soldiers. It's just that adding these people has been done almost entirely indiscriminately. In this way, every jailer who suffers from a slipped disc or officer in police headquarters who fell ill or soldier at the Kiriya who gets into a traffic accident is recognized as a disabled veteran and receives full commensurate rights.

These rights are particularly generous. A disabled IDF vet receives four times the stipend a disabled resident receives from the National Insurance Institute, and an IDF widow receives three times the compensation a resident receives from the NII. Because there's no criteria enforced regarding the population eligible for these rights, the result is a steep increase of the rehabilitation division's budget from year to year. Brodet Commission statistics indicate the number of those treated by the division grew 140 percent since 1984, but that the division's budget shot up 230 percent.

Because no one dares to cast doubts on this budget, it's been allowed to balloon to NIS 3.6 billion, and it may not be over.

With these amounts, one can understand why the Brodet Commission dared to keep silent no longer, questioning whether administration of the division's funds indeed serves the goal for which it was established. And this is not only an economic goal. The division's goal was a value-laden national one of honoring the memory of those defending state security. Off the record, army sources admit the unrestricted expansion of the population recognized as disabled veterans is liable to lead to the day when "in the military cemeteries there will be laid to rest, one alongside the other, those who were killed in Lebanon and those who were killed in road accidents on their way home from the Kiriya." It's doubtful whether this was the original intent in 1949 when then defense minister David Ben-Gurion legislated the laws upon which the rehabilitation division operates.