IDF soldiers on southern border 370.
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
A three-judge panel of the Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday recognized a former elite soldier as disabled by virtue of the post-traumatic stress disorder from which he suffers.
The precedent-setting ruling grants him all of the extra legal support, care and benefits that definition carries. This is the first time the Defense Ministry will grant benefits to a soldier because he has PTSD.
The ruling marked the second time in this soldier’s decade-long legal battle in which the court overturned the ruling of a Defense Ministry appeals board, after that body rejected the soldier’s request to be recognized as disabled by virtue of his psychological condition.
As part of its ruling, the court also took the unusual step of fining the Defense Ministry NIS 58,500 as reimbursement for the soldier’s legal fees accumulated over the course of several years.
The soldier, whose name is subject to a gag order, had the highest possible IDF medical profile – a score of 97 – and served in an elite unit from 1991 to 1993.
During his service, which dovetailed with first intifada, he was heavily involved in close combat with Palestinians.
The court determined that the soldier and his unit both physically subdued and killed Palestinians involved in rockthrowing and other disturbances, and it was these experiences that eventually caused his PTSD.
Although the soldier may have suffered from PTSD since 1993 and spent 1999 to 2003 suffering from varying levels of depression and psychological trauma, his legal battles did not start until 2003, when he first submitted to the Defense Ministry a request for disability benefits for former soldiers.
On the grounds of a statute of limitations – that too much time had passed since the traumatic events took place to grant him any status – and that he did not actually suffer from PTSD, his claim was rejected by the initial body, which rules on applications by former soldiers for disability benefits.
The soldier turned to the appeals board in 2005, but the board did not even investigate the particulars of the soldier’s alleged PTSD, rejecting the request on the grounds that too long had passed to make a claim.
The Tel Aviv District Court rendered its first decision on the case in 2008, rebuking the appeals body for summarily rejecting the claim on procedural grounds, ordering the body to seriously reconsider the substance of the claim, and directing the body to grant him disabled status should it be determined that he suffered from PTSD.
The appeals body then undertook a lengthy process of hearing the range of arguments from both sides.
On December 21, 2011, the body once again rejected the soldier’s request, this time on the basis of the expert medical opinion of a Dr. Becker, who testified in court that the soldier suffered not from PTSD but from a different psychological condition unrelated to his military service.
Becker determined that the soldier also suffered from alcoholism and was a drug user, both apparently unrelated to his army service.
The soldier appealed these findings to the Tel Aviv District Court.
The court rejected Becker’s opinion, finding that his declarations contradicted the international guide to mental health and determining that he had unduly dismissed the soldier’s side of the story and evidence.
In particular, the court rejected the doctor’s opinion that the solider had experienced the garden-variety violence that most infantrymen experience during their military service, determining that the violence he encountered and took part in was unusually disturbing and problematic, even for infantry soldiers.