Soldiers suffering from PTSD want state to extend disability payments

Only recently, a soldier who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the Yom Kippur War was recognized as disabled.

hands on head 88 (photo credit: )
hands on head 88
(photo credit: )
J. went into the 1973 Yom Kippur War with a profile of 97, the highest the army allocates. He came out of it with a 45 for psychological reasons, and could not serve again. J., who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on condition that his name would not be revealed, completed his military service in 1970. When the war broke out, he was sent to the Golan Heights to serve in an artillery unit. "Our battery was hit hard," he recalled. "Friends of mine were killed and I was wounded. I saw terrible things. Friends killed, burned." He was evacuated to Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer and sent for convalescence to Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar. After that, he was recognized as a disabled soldier and sent home. For the next five years, J. suffered in silence and those around him suffered, too. "I was nervous, impatient, frightened, I would not go out of the house for months at a time," he said. "It was especially hard around Remembrance Day and Independence Day." But J. did not say a word. He was ashamed. "I wanted to go back to my job," he said. "I fought how I was feeling because I was afraid my wife would divorce me. I was afraid of divorce, afraid that people would think badly of me. I said I would fight it by myself." During the next five years, he went through many jobs. Finally, in 1978, his wife asked a doctor for help. He examined J. and said there was nothing he could do. But for the first time, J.'s illness was out in the open. He went to a counseling center and was advised to ask for disabled veterans' payments from the Defense Ministry. J. went to the ministry and his disability was immediately confirmed. But when he went to the paymaster to register his claim, he was told that it was too late. The statute of limitations for compensation claims for disabled soldiers was three years. J. had missed the boat. And so it has been for the last 29 years. Even though there was no question that he had become disabled during the war, and even though it was certain he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the state has not paid him a penny. "I was in the war," he said. "I was hurt. What do they want from me? They called me to serve. I came. I fought. What do they want?" J. is not the only soldier who has not been compensated after suffering from PTSD because of combat service. According to Col. (res.) Uri Segall, head of a not-for-profit organization established four years ago to help shell-shocked soldiers, 15 percent of all soldiers who have served in combat units suffer from this illness. Segall established the organization in dramatic circumstances. He was a tank commander during the Yom Kippur War and fought with the Seventh Brigade, which stopped the Syrian armor attack aimed at Kuneitra. His unit consisted of about 30 soldiers, none of whom were killed or wounded. Although they had already served nine months together before the war, and then fought heroically through it, they never saw each other again. Apparently, the experience had been too emotionally difficult. On the 30th anniversary of the war, Segall organized a reunion. Everyone showed up, including some who lived abroad. It was an extraordinarily emotional experience, and some spoke of their suffering for the first time. A few of them subsequently sought psychological help. "Usually," Segall told the Post, "the illness breaks out 20 or 30 years later." Last week, Segall's organization petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the defense minister extend the statute of limitations for this disability. The organization's lawyers, Shlomi Zippori and Shlomo Rehavi, wrote that the law dealing with disabled soldiers authorized the defense minister to extend the statute for disabilities which he considered to be unique. This illness, they wrote, was one of them. The second petitioner, Amnon Barka'i, fought as a regular soldier in the Yom Kippur War and belonged to a unit which crossed the Suez Canal, where he was exposed to attacks by Egyptian warplanes and shelling and saw many IDF casualties. In 2004, while watching news reports of the terrorist bombing of a hotel in Taba, in the Sinai, he suddenly suffered difficulties in breathing, saw flashbacks of his experiences in the war and burst out crying. Before petitioning the High Court, Segall tried to persuade the Defense Ministry to voluntarily extend the statute of limitations. The ministry refused. In response to a query by the Post, the ministry's assistant spokeswoman, Liad Barzilai, wrote that according to the law for disabled soldiers, there is an arrangement whereby it is possible to extend the statute of limitations on condition that the injury suffered by the soldier was registered during his period of service. Barzilai pointed out that only recently, a soldier who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the Yom Kippur War was recognized as disabled. According to Segall, the Defense Ministry is missing the point about PTSD. The illness usually appears long after the injury is sustained. Therefore, the injury is not registered. Furthermore, soldiers who know they are suffering are often too ashamed to admit it during those first three years when they can make the claim. Segall said he was not asking that the Defense Ministry automatically grant the disabled soldiers' payment, but that it agree to send these soldiers to an evaluation center where they could be professionally diagnosed. Meanwhile, he said, only 30 percent of all soldiers who have suffered from PTSD were currently receiving disability payments.