Israel must make it clear to every recruit joining the army that if he is injured, he will be taken care of, Haim Bar, head of the Disabled IDF Veterans Association, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday.
Bar was speaking following the publication of an interim report authored by MKs Yisrael Hasson (Kadima) and Moshe Matalon (Israel Beiteinu) on the services provided by the Ministry of Defense’s Departments for Rehabilitation of Disabled IDF Veterans and for Bereaved Families.
According to the 13-page report, which is based on 200 hours of interviews with disabled veterans and bereaved families, field trips to various locations and a comprehensive investigation of the two Defense Ministry departments, the entire approach of the state and society toward these veterans must change.
“The Department of Rehabilitation must modify its focus and the approach from now on must come out of pride, unity, solidarity and validation for these former soldiers. It should not come as a sort of blackmail or on condition that the economic situation improves,” Hasson and Matalon wrote in their conclusion.
The committee charged with compiling the report, which also included MKs Eitan Cabel (Labor), Arye Eldad (National Union) and Yariv Levin (Likud), said that often disabled veterans are made to feel like “a rich uncle from across the street has been kind enough to care for them” and not like the heroes they are.
“The goal of this investigation is to make sure that the State of Israel pays its debt to those who have paid the ultimate price, namely with their own bodies, to protect the security of Israeli citizens,” said Hasson.
The only way to change this often “bitter” situation was to “return the lost pride to all disabled IDF veterans and bereaved families and in the process bring back national pride for all citizens of this country,” he added.
Launched seven months ago, after complaints from veterans organizations that the rehabilitation service was not functioning as it should, the investigation was further fueled in November when disabled veterans took to the streets protesting against wasteful spending by the Defense Ministry coupled with cutbacks to their own benefits.
The demonstrations, which disrupted traffic in central Tel Aviv, were finally brought to an end when Hasson brokered an agreement between Haim Bar and Defense Ministry director-general Pinhas Buchris, who promised to improve programs offered to former soldiers and to implement a series of changes to the Rehabilitation Department.
“We welcome the work of Yisrael Hasson and Moshe Matalon in compiling this report and we hope that the defense establishment will listen to their suggestions,” Nava Shoham, chairwoman of the IDF Widows and Orphans Association, told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting on Wednesday.
According to Shoham, while the Department for Bereaved Families was not criticized as harshly as the rehabilitation services for disabled veterans, “there is still much work that needs to be done.
“Benefits for widows and orphans have not changed at all since 2001,” she told the Post, suggesting that that the overall budget of these two departments had decreased in the past 10 years.
About 4,800 IDF widows receive state benefits and services, 2,700 army orphans are being assisted until the age of 30, and 8,800 parents who lost their children during army service also get aid.
Official estimates that more than 100,000 Israelis are considered disabled army veterans, with roughly a third suffering from a slight disability and 9 percent not entitled to any benefits. Of that 100,000 plus, close to 9,000 people are entitled to financial assistance each year of between NIS 40,000 and NIS 150,000, and 55,000 have been recognized as between 20% and 100% disabled.
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry told the Post that representatives from the ministry were not invited to the Knesset committee hearing and that the ministry was presently not responding to the report.