Disabled IDF veteran denied PTSD treatment commits suicide

47-year-old Itzik Chen, who was injured in Lebanon in the early 90s, committed suicide while fighting for recognition of his post-trauma.

A protest by disabled IDF veterans in Tel Aviv, April 18, 2021 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
A protest by disabled IDF veterans in Tel Aviv, April 18, 2021
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Itzik Chen, who served as a paratrooper in Lebanon and Nablus, committed suicide on Sunday morning, Israeli media reported.

Chen, 47, was recognized by the Defense Ministry as a disabled veteran but had been fighting for additional recognition of mental illnesses stemming from his service.

The Defense Ministry denied Chen’s suicide is related to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he developed during his IDF service.

“Preliminary investigation shows the background for the suicide is unrelated to post-trauma, but to another disease that cannot be disclosed due to medical confidentiality,” the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The ministry added that it is investigating the causes and circumstances of the incident.

Israeli soldiers hold an Israeli flag as they leave Lebanese territory during a second day of ceasefire during the Second Lebanon War, near the town of Menara August 15, 2006. (credit: REUTERS)Israeli soldiers hold an Israeli flag as they leave Lebanese territory during a second day of ceasefire during the Second Lebanon War, near the town of Menara August 15, 2006. (credit: REUTERS)

The Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department has long been criticized for being excessively reticent in recognizing veterans’ claims of injury during military service. Until a veteran’s condition is recognized – a process that can take years in some cases – they are not eligible for assistance.

“We are hurting and stunned by the suicide of the disabled veteran Itzhik Chen,” the IDF Disabled Veterans Association said on Sunday. “This is exactly the cry that we have been raising the whole time. There are disabled IDF veterans who have been waiting for recognition for years, falling through the cracks over time and not receiving proper treatment.”

“Itzik was the cream of the crop,” Sigalit Chen Katsav told Army Radio. “When he became sick he would say things like ‘Hezbollah is listening to us, close the windows.’ Itzik today was released from the army. Now he has finally left Lebanon.

“There are shellshocked veterans who are half-dead walking among us. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he received the campaign medal [decorative pin given for participation in a military campaign] for the First Lebanon War in an envelope. The army cannot even face its wounded veterans and see how they are?”

In April, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the initiation of the “One Soul” reform program for IDF veterans suffering from trauma, after Itzik Saidian set himself on fire in front of the Petah Tikva offices of the IDF’s Rehabilitation Department.

Saidian, a 26-year-old veteran of the Golani Brigade, served in the battle of Shaja’iya during Operation Protective Edge, in which 13 soldiers were killed including Oron Shaul, whose body is still being held by Hamas in Gaza. Saidian remains hospitalized in serious condition, but recently woke up for the first time five months after being hospitalized.

The cabinet approved a set of reforms in May intended to overhaul government services for disabled veterans, including the allocation of NIS 300 million for the immediate treatment and rehabilitation of veterans, with an emphasis on victims of PTSD.

Over the last year, 1,716 disabled IDF veterans were recognized by the government, 747 of them suffering from PTSD, according to the Defense Ministry. A total of 6,701 veterans have been recognized as suffering from PTSD to date by the ministry, with 97% of the veterans claiming PTSD being recognized, compared with 61% in previous years.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.