The IDF’s top echelon recoils from confronting the problem of billions misspent each year on benefits for disabled veterans who were injured other than in the line of duty. This is too big a bite of the defense budget to ignore, especially when said budget is yet again generating controversy.
After nearly four years of dithering, the defense establishment must have concluded that putting off the inevitable is not a sustainable strategy. As a consequence, it submitted a bill based mostly on recommendations made by the Goren Committee already in 2010.
The committee, headed by retried judge Uri Goren, drew a clear distinction between servicemen injured in the line of duty and those who were not. This is an emotional issue and the outlays to assorted categories of disabled veterans are still treated as hallowed.
About NIS 5 billion is shelled out annually in benefits and the whopping figure keeps growing. Twenty years ago, the cost was NIS 2.3b. a year. If that were not enough, the Defense Ministry is saddled with the bill for injured personnel from the Prisons Service, the Israel Police, the Knesset Guard and more.
Yet only 23 percent of the 56,000 benefits recipients were injured in the line of service. Nearly 40% were injured in accidents outside the military framework and nearly 30% fell ill.
This goes far deeper than the problem of the defense budget being depleted by, for example, recognizing as military invalids soldiers injured at a night club during furlough. It devalues the real sacrifices made by soldiers wounded on the battlefield or while carrying out their very real, often hazardous, military duties. This is hardly what was intended by the original framers of regulations.
Since, however, our defense establishment dare not challenge sacred cows, the alternatives are cuts that significantly undermine substantive security interests, such as limiting operational activities for reserve units and laying off thousands of civilian employees and career officers.
This means reservists are not getting the training they need and that the IDF stands to lose some of its most motivated personnel. To be sure, not all reserve call-ups are essential, but many are. Not all salaried IDF officers are indispensable, but many are.
When putting together the budget it is not possible to focus on every minor folly, but wholesale cuts cause irreparable harm.
There is no way that pilots or tank crews can be just as good with diminished drill and practice. It is easy for Finance Ministry bureaucrats to make light of what they dub “bluffs and scare tactics,” but we can never be certain that what is characterized as “spin” is not risky.
Therefore, it is essential to focus on expenses that by any yardstick are wrongheaded.
That is what the proposed bill belatedly seeks to accomplish. In fact, the Goren recommendations were watered down. Thus not all soldiers injured in road accidents while on furlough would be refused recognition as military casualties. The Goren Committee wanted to exclude all soldiers “driving recklessly on their own time,” but the current bill only cites “criminal behavior” – i.e. driving under the influence or without a valid license – as grounds for exclusion.
Soldiers injured while vacationing abroad would be eligible only for Defense Ministry benefits if they live in Israel without their families and traveled to meet their parents. Not all illnesses contracted during service would entitle a soldier/employee to ministry support. Exceptions would be made in cases of exposure to radioactivity or the handling of hazardous substances.
None of these changes would be retroactive.
This is not doctrinaire tight-fistedness. It is common sense. We cannot afford to burden the defense budget with what should be the responsibility of the National Insurance Institute.
Waste in the defense budget is no trifling matter. We should recall that a lack of preparedness and careless slashes to essential military spending wrought havoc in the Second Lebanon War.