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(photo credit: AP)
No sooner had Israel’s War of Independence concluded when prime minister David Ben-Gurion sponsored the Disabled Veterans Law – “to repay some of the debt we owe those who sacrificed their physical well-being to liberate the nation and its homeland.”
Last week, the Knesset committee charged with investigating how the Defense Ministry’s Departments for Rehabilitation of Disabled IDF Veterans and for Bereaved Families discharges their duties, contended in its interim report that the moral obligation Ben-Gurion cited is unfulfilled.
Rather than being treated as heroes, judged the committee, disabled veterans are perceived as charity cases, people “a rich uncle from across the street has been kind enough to take care of.”
The likely reason for this unjust state of affairs, however, is underscored by another investigation: The Goren Committee, named for retired judge Uri Goren who heads it, was set up by the government last May to reexamine eligibility criteria for Defense Ministry assistance. Its preliminary findings are shocking.
To begin with, only 26 percent of veterans now on the IDF rehabilitation rolls were actually wounded in action or injured under circumstances even remotely connected with military activity. Only 12% of the fallen, moreover, fell in the line of duty or in the framework of IDF service.
Most casualties had nothing whatever to do with the service, except for the fact that the deceased or injured were formally enlisted at the time.
Most mishaps occurred during furloughs, especially when soldiers took the family car for a joy-ride, went clubbing, got into a gang-fight or drove under the influence. The IDF also pays for the consequences of ice skating, water skiing, snow skiing, diving, rafting, soccer and other leisure-time accidents.
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In one notable case, a soldier on leave burglarized a store and, while torching it to destroy evidence, sustained burns. Now a recipient of Rehabilitation Department largesse, he is treated on a par with veterans wounded in battle.
In addition, the IDF’s disability designation is accorded for a variety of ailments – both psychological and physical – whose link to military service is feeble and unsubstantiated.
In recent testimony before the Goren Committee, journalist Amnon Abramovich, himself a disabled Yom Kippur War veteran, lambasted “the IDF disability industry.”
Doctors and lawyers are hired by claimants seeking to secure higher assistance. According to Abramovich, disability benefits are wangled for skin rashes, hemorrhoids, buzzing in the ears and dubious traumas and aches.
The inevitable upshot is the “short blanket” effect – pulling it from one side exposes the other. The Rehabilitation Department spends around NIS 4 billion annually, yet even such mammoth outlays prove insufficient. Those who suffer are the bona fide disabled battlefield and service veterans.
In 2006, following the Second Lebanon War, the Brodet Commission was appointed to scrutinize the defense budget as a whole. It recommended restricting disability entitlements to “those injured in actions of a military or security nature.”
All the others, it said, ought to be transferred to the National Insurance Institute’s care. The latter’s criteria and benefits, though, are far less generous.
The very prospect of change inflamed the Disabled IDF Veterans Association, sparked protests and led to both the Knesset and Goren inquiries.
The association’s gripes are warranted but its case is undermined by the fact that its membership includes all too many with clear vested interests to fiercely safeguard entitlements for non-military casualties. Running scared, the association slammed Abramovich and likened the Goren Committee to the UN’s Goldstone Commission.
But offense isn’t always the best defense. Both the Brodet and Goren committees are on the right track, whereas the association in part represents a constituency with very shaky claims to disabled-veteran status. It is part and parcel of the culture of machinations to squeeze out undeserved benefits. It further ingrains the corollary culture of dependency in which those to whom we truly owe the most are shortchanged, crushed and humiliated.
The existing travesty is certainly not in keeping with Ben-Gurion’s vision. We need to do less for the pretenders, and far more for authentic disabled veterans.
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