Disabled IDF veterans protest as Saidian remains in critical condition

Caregivers announce that they would be holding a full strike of services until the Defense Ministry fixes issues with their working conditions.

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)
Disabled IDF veterans and their caregivers protested on Sunday against a series of issues they have with government services for disabled veterans and the working conditions of caregivers, after disabled IDF veteran Itzik Saidian set himself on fire at an office of the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Division last week.
Saidian underwent three-hour-long surgery also on Sunday at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. Dr. Moti Harats, an expert in the national burn unit, stated that Saidian is still in very serious condition, intubated and sedated, and that doctors are still fighting to save his life.
"We recently finished the operation; you could say that he passed it successfully. He returned to recovery in the burns unit," Harats told Army Radio. "The very fact that he can withstand such a complex operation indicates an improvement in our eyes."
The protesters blocked the intersection next to Azrieli Center and one side of the Ayalon Highway during the protests.
"I'm disabled and shell-shocked for many years already, but there are no women in the Defense Ministry. Women have different needs, especially with help at home and caring for children," one protester told KAN news. "Saidian's case is just the beginning, it will be like dominoes. If I had the courage - I would go."
A protest by disabled IDF veterans in Tel Aviv, April 18, 2021 (Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Maariv)A protest by disabled IDF veterans in Tel Aviv, April 18, 2021 (Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Maariv)
"We have all been close to hurting ourselves, more than once," Refael Ashkenazi, another shell-shocked veteran, told Army Radio. "Every two months we are asked to humiliate ourselves and write on a page 'I cannot work.' Do you know what that does to a person? The only two words that are holding me right now are 'No more.'"
Bnei Akiva Secretary-General Yair Shahal also took part in the protest on Sunday. "There is no struggle more just than the one the disabled and wounded IDF veterans are currently waging. The State of Israel must mobilize for those who paid with their bodies and souls for the establishment of the state and for our lives in this country," he said.
"At times, we tend to forget precisely those who live daily the wars and battles to which they were sent on our missions," added Shahal. "Gratitude and assistance to the disabled and wounded in the IDF: This is our highest moral duty. The State of Israel must do and act as much as it can in order for their rights to be exercised without unnecessary bureaucracy and out of respect and appreciation for their work."
 
CAREGIVERS FOR disabled IDF veterans start at minimum wage, do not receive an adequate pension and lack employment prospects, according to Israel Hayom.
On Sunday, the caregivers announced that they would be holding a full strike of services until the Defense Ministry fixes issues with their working conditions.
"With great sorrow and no choice, the organization of lenders and the Histadrut are preparing for the complete shutdown of medical services and caregiving for the thousands of wounded [veterans]," said the caregivers' union.
"We have no choice but to say in a clear voice: No more!" added the union. "Both the disabled and the caregivers who give their all for those who have given their lives, deserve humane conditions and pay that is no joke. Unfortunately we reached a dead end and we had no choice. Disabled IDF veterans know that we are with them in every way they go."
The caregivers claim that about 15 to 20 years ago, the Rehabilitation Division did provide the workers with adequate working conditions, but has since begun focusing on finance instead of the needs of the veterans.
Caregivers work about 350 hours a month, traveling hours to reach the homes of disabled veterans and sometimes not even receiving full compensation for their travel costs.
They are also fighting against a decision by the Defense Ministry to issue a tender at a cost of about NIS 420 million per year to change contractor companies and the terms of employment of caretakers.
"In recent years, the Defense Ministry has been waging a struggle against the union of caregivers for disabled IDF veterans in order to harm their working conditions and wages," said the caretakers' union in an announcement of the protest. "This is a direct continuation of the insensitivity of the Rehabilitation Division towards the disabled and their caregivers."
"The caregivers serve as a mouth for disabled IDF veterans whose condition does not allow them [to speak out], and experience themselves the flow of unnecessary and endless bureaucracy, and the turmoil and insensitivity of the Rehabilitation Division," added the announcement.
 
The Defense Ministry claims that employment conditions cannot be improved due to the lack of a state budget, according to Israel Hayom.
Political squabbles have left Israel without a state budget for over two years, with social services across the country impacted. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, a number of services and projects were frozen and even faced threats of being shut down due to the lack of a budget.
A court has ruled against the Defense Ministry and frozen the tenders the ministry has attempted to issue, as well as ruling that it is obligated to negotiate with the caregivers. The Histadrut union, which represents the caregivers, says that despite the ruling, the Rehabilitation Division is not showing a willingness to conduct genuine negotiations.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Sunday, shortly before the protest was set to begin, that he intended to bring a series of decisions to the government and Knesset to promote significant changes in the treatment of disabled IDF veterans in coordination with the Disabled IDF Veterans Organization.
Gantz stated that he intends to bring the main points of a report known as the Ben-Reuven Report to the government, including steps to simplify processes for recognizing disabled veterans. The defense minister plans to demand a budget of NIS 30 million for Beit HaLochem centers, which provide rehabilitation and sport services to disabled veterans and their families, and promote a national PTSD program.
The Ben-Reuven report, published last year by a committee led by Eyal Ben-Reuven, called for far-reaching reforms after finding a deep crisis in terms of public trust in the Rehabilitation Division due to a series of issues. The report pointed to a lack of transparency toward disabled veterans and long bureaucratic processes that make registering for and receiving services exceedingly difficult, among other issues.
"Disabled veterans have sacrificed the most precious of all under the civil service and we are committed to providing them with the best care," said Gantz. "There is 'wall-to-wall' consensus on this issue in the government and the Knesset, and therefore the issues can be promoted immediately by agreement and without conditions, while allocating the required resources."
Saidian, a 26-year-old disabled IDF veteran, is in critical condition at Sheba Medical Center after he set himself on fire at an office of the Defense Ministry's Rehabilitation Division in Petah Tikva last week. A veteran of the Golani Brigade, Saidian was diagnosed with PTSD after seeing combat action during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014.