IDF veteran David Leitner has spent the last 12 years confined to a wheelchair following an injury sustained during IDF training two decades ago, which resulted in nerve damage and his development of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Leitner’s CRPS is accompanied by allodynia: an ever-present, excruciating sensitivity to even the lightest touch.
“It has been a very limiting experience,” Leitner told me. “I don’t like going into public spaces. I don’t like being in crowds. I can’t play catch with my kids.”
Not shielded from new opportunities
For the last few weeks, however, Leitner’s severe risk of leg pain has been reduced to a life-changing degree thanks to Restart, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping wounded IDF veterans overcome their challenges. Through their “Makers for Heroes” program, Restart collaborated with defense technology company Elbit to engineer a carbon fiber, wheelchair-mounted leg shield for Leitner which is both sturdy and lightweight.
That shield has opened up several new opportunities in his life. “I was in a mall last night, and I felt safer. I felt less anxious. I didn’t feel like I had to be on high alert to make sure nobody’s near me because people couldn’t get near me,” he said, adding that with the shield, “I can play catch with my children.”
Restart's crowdfunding campaign
This week, Restart launched a crowdfunding campaign, for which Leitner is an ambassador, in order to raise the money necessary to initiate more projects that can change the lives of more wounded veterans. Using the raised funds, Restart will be able to initiate more projects which specifically assist individual veterans in need, while also creating solutions for others in similar positions.
“[The solutions] aren’t just going to one person, they’re being made available to other disabled veterans and other people who need them,” said Leitner. “One [veteran] needed a way to connect his crutches so that he wouldn’t have to leave a crutch behind when he was walking with something in his hand. They created a device that holds the two crutches together – it didn’t exist in the market. Now they’ve already made like 10 of them for other people who needed one.”
Restart’s efforts occasionally include brilliant engineering and tech collaborations, but it also offers a much broader variety of assistance to wounded vets.
In addition to its Makers for Heroes program, Restart runs a mentoring program that matches wounded veterans with mentors from the business and academic world to provide guidance, skills and tools for their personal and professional development.
Restart also offers a storytelling program that teaches wounded veterans how to communicate better and how to share their stories – a process that provides them with the confidence to stand up and be heard, even if they have significant and obvious disabilities.
“There are so many soldiers who need this kind of help: whether they have PTSD or they’re physically disabled because of their service,” Leitner said. “And there are very few organizations that do anything to help wounded IDF veterans to really get back on track and return to a sense of self-efficacy and their own ability to do things in the world and face the challenges that they have. This is what Restart does”
This year, the NPO also launched a work placement program that is helping wounded veterans find jobs that are flexible and match their physical, mental and accessibility capabilities.
“Beyond the programs that Restart runs, one of the most amazing things about it is that they’ve created a community around the needs of disabled veterans – but more importantly, that community doesn’t view the idea of veterans as charity cases. They are equal partners in an amazing process of creating community, together,” said Leitner. “They’ve done a lot for me, and I’ve seen them do a lot for a lot of other people.”
Restart’s crowdfunding campaign is currently aiming to raise NIS 500,000 via its volunteer ambassadors, including Leitner.