IDF recognizes over 58,000 disabled veterans

The tragedy resulted in public outcry and protests, with activists and families of soldiers demanding reforms and better support in the state’s rehabilitation facilities for disabled IDF veterans.

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)

There are 58,154 disabled IDF veterans recognized by Israel’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) Rehabilitation Department, the ministry announced on Sunday.

The official figures, which include soldiers who are suffering both physical and mental injuries, were published to mark the annual Day of Appreciation for Those Wounded in Israel’s Wars and in Terrorist Attacks.

Over the last year, 1,716 disabled IDF veterans were recognized by the government, 747 of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) A total of 6,701 veterans have been recognized as suffering from PTSD to date by the ministry. According to the ministry, 97% of the veterans claiming PTSD were recognized compared to 61% in previous years.

The figures released by the Ministry of Defense (MOD) showed that of those being treated by the MOD’s rehabilitation department, 572 of them are highly disabled. Of the total number of wounded veterans, 92% are men and 8% are women.

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 Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation division.

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, including Oron Shaul whose body is still being held by Hamas in Gaza, were killed. He remains in critical condition in hospital.

 FIDF supporters and wounded IDF veterans following the sixth annual FIDF ride (credit: GILAD KAVALERCHIK) FIDF supporters and wounded IDF veterans following the sixth annual FIDF ride (credit: GILAD KAVALERCHIK)

The tragedy resulted in a public outcry and protests, with activists and families of soldiers demanding reforms and better support by the state’s rehabilitation facilities for disabled IDF veterans.

The Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department has long been criticized for being excessively reticent to recognize veterans’ claims of injury during their military service. Until a veteran’s condition was recognized, a process which in some cases took years, they were not eligible for assistance.

Since then, the process has undergone a comprehensive reform. Today the army takes a proactive approach, rapidly intervening in disabled cases, cutting down bureaucracy, and building a dedicated rehabilitation program in all aspects including welfare, medical care, and employment.

“We have a responsibility and the obligation to right a historical injustice and we will not stop until we complete the reform,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Gantz said that while he is “proud” of the changes and the progress made, “we are only at the beginning of the road, there will be more difficulties and challenges.

The MOD’s Rehabilitation department invests and collaborates with academia to promote research into the field of PTSD treatment, and any veteran recognized to have PTSD (over 20% disability) is eligible for individual, spousal and/or family psychological therapy.

Israel’s cabinet in May approved a set of reforms intended to overhaul government services for disabled veterans including the allocation of NIS 300 million ($92m.) for the immediate treatment and rehabilitation of veterans, with an emphasis on victims of PTSD.

Gantz said that a bill to abolish the income test “will allow thousands of disabled people to enter the labor market and earn a decent living.” In addition, Gantz and Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper agreed that the ceremony honoring the wounded veterans will become a state ceremony organized by the MOD.

Limor Luria, Deputy Director-General and Head of the Rehabilitation Department at the MOD  said that the day to honor wounded vets “is the day when the state prioritizes the people who sacrificed their lives and bodies for us.”

“The One Soul reform creates the opportunity to ensure solutions for IDF vets to receive the best care that they deserve, Luria continued, adding that “it is our moral duty as a state and as a society to care for those who have sacrificed their lives for us.”