The Jerusalem Post
An emergency hotline received a 300% increase in calls this week after a former IDF soldier set himself on fire after being denied care by the Defense Ministry.
While Itzik Saidian’s cry for help has now been heard across the country – the ministry has vowed to form a panel to investigate how to improve services and rehabilitation for IDF veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder – he remains in critical condition.
Had the IDF and Defense Ministry properly cared for Saidian to begin with, this tragedy might have been averted.
Saidian was a 26-year-old IDF reservist who fought in the 2014 war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He was a soldier in the Golani Brigade and took part in the Battle of Shejaia, where several of his fellow soldiers were killed. Family members said that when Saidian returned from the war, he was a different person.
One of the many criticisms heard in recent years is that the state neglects people with PTSD. IDF veterans told stories this week of private investigators sent by the ministry to try to catch them lying, or of being told to strip completely naked in front of a medical committee when their problem was a wound they had suffered to their leg during battle that could be seen by rolling up their pants leg.
This is wrong. IDF soldiers who were wounded in battle or suffer from PTSD have often paid the ultimate price. They lost friends, they carry with them irreparable injuries, and inwardly they are sometimes lost to nightmares and trauma. The state owes its citizens to do everything it can to help them, not to erect obstacles.
While IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has vowed that the IDF will care for those who suffer emotional and physical scars from war, words alone will not be enough. The country needs to consider how it is addressing the needs of those who suffer long after the guns fall silent. President Reuven Rivlin said that among Israelis there are many who return from war with enduring pain. “We see you; we feel your pain,” he said.
PTSD and the lack of treatment for Israeli soldiers have been a recurring theme for decades, as the prevalence of the disorder became well known among soldiers coming back from war in the 1970s and 1980s.
Reports indicated in 2018 that up to 8% of combat soldiers return from their service with some form of trauma, and 30% of those wounded during 2014 continue to suffer. In some cases, soldiers continue to suffer decades after war, with veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War still in need of treatment today.
More needs to be done to learn about the extent of the suffering. While studies show that fewer IDF veterans have PTSD than their Western counterparts, a recurring theme is a feeling among IDF veterans that the system works against them and does not provide the support they need. Labor Party MK Omer Bar Lev, a former senior IDF officer, was outspoken on Tuesday in calling for more support.
Others who have dealt with veterans seeking assistance say the vets have been treated unprofessionally and neglected.
In other cases, those suffering said that even if they were diagnosed with PTSD, it took the ministry years to accept the diagnosis, sometimes up to a decade. Meanwhile, bills piled up and costs were incurred.
Unfortunately, Israel is very good at mourning those who fell in wars but not as good at taking care of those who returned with the scars of battle. This is particularly true when those scars are not so visible.
Israel has a people’s army, and this has in some ways mitigated and amplified how we deal with trauma. It means our trauma is national. But it also means that every generation is expected to make its sacrifices and pay its dues.
The recent tragic case illustrates that more attention needs to be given to our veterans. Although the details of the 2014 war are fading into memory for many of us, those who were in the battles and saw the worst of that conflict continue to relive it.