Defense Ministry promises immediate change in treatment of disabled vets

The Defense Ministry will launch a thorough and comprehensive plan to improve the treatment of disabled IDF veterans, ministry Director-General Amir Eshel said Sunday. The first part of the plan will be brought for cabinet approval as soon as next Sunday, he said.

“Parts of this plan were ready already four months ago, but due to the election, we weren’t able to bring them forward,” Eshel said.

In a Zoom briefing with reporters, he acknowledged that the incident in which IDF veteran Itzik Saidian set himself on fire in front of a Defense Ministry office in protest of the poor treatment he received was a catalyst in the process.

“There is no doubt that the situation here was dramatically changed due to Itzik’s move, which was caused by his despair,” Eshel said. “I feel that we are on the verge of a major change. It is not only the Defense Ministry but also other players in the field. I see that there is a will to make a deep change.”

The change will be “a fundamental change” and not “just wrapping or PR… If we won’t bring a fundamental change, we will call it a failure,” he said. “If we will make changes that are like a Band-Aid, it will blow up in our faces. It will happen sooner or later; the question is just when.”

The first steps would be taken in the near future, Eshel said.

“We assume that despite the polarization in the political sphere, there is a consensus in this fundamental change that we aim to bring,” he said. “And I want to stress that the things that are ready to be changed will start as soon as possible.”

However, things that require legislation and thorough examination will take time, Eshel said.

“Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s directive is to storm at this goal,” he said. “He will be updated once a day, or once every two days, regarding the progress on this issue.”

Topics to be included in the plan are the quality of service that the ministry provides to veterans; accessibility to these services; the ability of veterans to execute their rights; formation of medical committees and their actions; recommendations of the Ben-Reuven Committee; and the formation of a national committee that will deal with the issues, which will be made up of Defense Ministry officials, IDF officials and others.

The ministry’s Rehabilitation Department suffers from a lack of manpower, which harms the way it treats disabled IDF veterans, Eshel said.

“If one person is in charge of treating around 2,000 veterans, it doesn’t work,” he said. “We added more physicians, but it’s still not enough.”

Eshel addressed the issue of thoroughly checking the background of each veteran to see what caused his or her trauma. This procedure was said to be both intrusive and humiliating.

“They asked: Who do we check [about] their past? Because this is what the law says,” he said. “There are actions that we are required to do by law. But if you ask me, if someone was exposed to these kinds of things [that caused their trauma] during a battle, I don’t care what happened before that. This is why there are things that must be changed.”

The treatment of IDF veterans will stay in the hands of the ministry, Eshel said.

“We, the defense establishment, sent them to battles, war and operations, and it is our duty to look after them and treat them,” he said.

Saidian underwent three-hour surgery on Sunday at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. He is in very serious condition, intubated and sedated, and doctors are fighting to save his life, said Dr. Moti Harats of the burn unit.

“We recently finished the operation,” he told Army Radio. “You could say that he passed it successfully. He returned to recovery in the burn unit. That he can withstand such a complex operation indicates an improvement in our eyes.”

Disabled IDF veterans and their caregivers protested on Sunday in Tel Aviv over complaints they have with government services for disabled veterans and the working conditions of caregivers. The demonstrators blocked the intersection next to Azrieli Center and one side of the Ayalon Highway.

“I’m disabled and shell-shocked for many years already, but there are no women in the Defense Ministry,” a protester told KAN News. “Women have different needs, especially with help at home and caring for children. Saidian’s case is just the beginning. It will be like dominoes. If I had the courage, I would go.”

“We have all been close to hurting ourselves more than once,” Rafael 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.’”

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