The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, chaired by MK Avi Dichter (Likud), debated “the State’s neglect of IDF veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” initiated by MKs Zehava Galon (Meretz), Anat Berko (Likud), Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid) and Micky Rosenthal (Zionist Camp).
“Regretfully, I say that 15 years after we passed a law which recognizes shell shock and post trauma, we still need to discuss the bureaucratic abuse of people who went to the battlefield on our behalf and in our name, and returned injured, even if the injury is not visible,” said MK Galon. “People are forced to prove their inability to function, while at the same time there are not enough groups and institutions which provide support, and it is the non-profit organizations which fill the responsibility void left by the state.”
MK Berko said that according to the US Army, 16% of soldiers are recognized as being shell-shocked, while in Israel only 3% of shell-shocked soldiers are recognized as such. “These figures indicate that there are people who live their entire lives with these traumas, without frameworks for support and treatment from those who sent them to battle. We need a more supportive and enabling approach to the person who was hurt and to his or her entire family.”
Haim Knovler of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization called to change the regulations according to which the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department operates, while Moshe Katz of the Serving Those Who Served organization said, “Not every soldier is shell-shocked, but every combat soldier needs to go through a process of returning to normal life.”
“The understanding that they went through something is important, and we need to reach them quickly and treat them before the bureaucracy,” he stressed.
Uri Lerner, who was awarded a Medal of Distinguished Service during the Second Lebanon War and received help from the organization, told the committee that a year and a half after the war he was recognized as a sufferer of PTSD. “The IDF constantly talks about not leaving the injured in the field, so if a soldier says that something is wrong, he should not be told to return the following morning and he should not have to take tests or fight for percentages,” he said.
Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Defense Brig. Gen. (res.) Hezi Meshita, who heads the ministry’s Rehabilitation Department, revealed that 4,649 IDF veterans are recognized as post-trauma victims and are treated by the Rehabilitation Department. About half of them receive compensation and subsistence allowance in accordance with their recognized disability. He said 143 soldiers injured in Operation Defensive Shield were recognized as IDF veterans with a post-combat reaction (with a disability level of 20% or more) are treated in the Rehabilitation Department, and are in the process of rehabilitation with the assistance of a multi-disciplinary team (CM). Most of them also suffer from a combined physical and mental injury: 40% of them are currently being funded by the Defense Ministry as part of the rehabilitation process, 26% are employed, and the rest are in different stages of the rehabilitation program.
Meshita explained that “the rehabilitation department is assisted by professionals and the best experts in Israel, and invests considerable resources in developing advanced treatment methods for victims of post-trauma and is now considered one of the leading organizations in the world in this field. IDF veterans who have been recognized as post-trauma victims are entitled to extensive assistance in the areas of rehabilitation, medicine, and welfare, and the Defense Ministry operates a wide range of occupational rehabilitation for them, including unique treatment frameworks.
“We are working to improve constantly to streamline the process, and together with the IDF are taking steps to increase awareness among post-traumatic soldiers of the phenomenon of post-trauma and ways to treat them,” he said.
Some of the victims of post-trauma who attended the meeting said the figures presented by Meshita do not reflect the real situation. One of them said it takes between two to seven years for an IDF veteran to be recognized after he or she was identified as having PTSD. “People threaten to kill themselves because they do not receive psychiatric treatment or medicine for four months,” he said.
Another veteran said, “Ten psychiatrists did not even try to check what happened to me. They just listened to me for an hour and a half and determined that I had nightmares as a child. So how was I accepted to the Paratroopers Brigade?”
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) spoke about his brother, who suffers from PTSD after fighting in the Second Lebanon War. “Those who have not woken up at night and heard the screams do not know what they’re talking about,” he said. “First they say ‘no’ and place the burden of proof on the victim, but they immediately stuff him with pills.”
MK Sharren Haskel (Likud) supported the demand for extensive reform in the work of the Rehabilitation Department and mentioned that she was establishing a Knesset lobby for PTSD victims. “These are heroes who have been through hell, and now the state is putting them through another hell,” she said.
Committee Chairman MK Dichter said it would meet with officials of the Rehabilitation Department to understand its work plan.