Itzik Saidyan, an army veteran who set himself on fire setting off a national reckoning on treating PTSD, made his first public appearance on Sunday evening, after more than a year of recovery.
“I set myself a goal to continue to make the voice of wounded IDF veterans heard, and I will continue to support them,” Saidyan said at an event in support of the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, where he was hospitalized for a year following the incident. “I am happy to support and aid any way to promote life-saving projects,” he added in brief remarks after thanking all the doctors and nurses who cared for him, as well as his family members.
The event marked the first time Saidyan was seen in public after he set himself on fire in April 2021 outside a Defense Ministry office in Petah Tikva to protest alleged neglect by authorities.
Saidyan’s condition has improved significantly in recent months. He was so badly burned that medics were skeptical whether he would live. But after more than 30 surgeries and five months in a coma, he has made steady progress in what his family has called a miraculous process of recovery.
President Isaac Herzog also spoke at the Sheba event on Sunday, and praised Saidyan for his bravery.
“His cry for those physically and mentally wounded in battle entered all of our hearts, and brought with it a welcome and blessed change,” Herzog said. The president added that he was thrilled to see Saidyan on his feet, proof of his “endless powers” and the incredible staff at Sheba.
לראשונה מאז פציעתו הקשה: איציק סעידיאן הופיע בפומבי
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) June 19, 2022
In the 14 months since Saidyan self-immolated, he has gone through a painstaking and immense recovery. In January he went outdoors for the first time in a wheelchair and the hospital also released a recording of him thanking medical staff in honor of Israel’s national Doctor’s Day, the first time he was publicly heard speaking since the self-immolation.
Last month, he released a recorded message on the eve of Memorial Day, saying that those who have fallen in battle are remembered every day of the year.
“It is a tough day and we do not need a special day to remember our friends. We remember them all year. So I recommend not overloading yourself on this day. Choose to be with close friends, with family, go to the sea, breathe the air, see the sunset, surf,” Saidyan said in the message. “Thank you for giving me strength in my rehabilitation. I send strength, hugs and love to you.”
After a year in the hospital’s burn unit, Saidyan was reportedly moved to the rehabilitation unit at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv in April, but he was said to continue to require intense treatment.
Saidyan set himself on fire outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Rehabilitation Department for disabled soldiers last year, after years of struggling to receive the care he sought for PTSD, which he said stemmed from his service in the Israeli military.
His self-immolation brought the Defense Ministry’s treatment of wounded veterans under intense scrutiny.
According to the IDF Veteran’s Association, Saidyan was frustrated over his treatment by authorities. He was recognized by the Defense Ministry as having 25 percent disability from his post-traumatic stress disorder, but had requested 50% recognition. The ministry had refused, saying at least a portion of his condition was due to childhood trauma, not his military service.
Saidyan served in the Golani infantry brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in fighting in Shejaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.
Veterans and their advocates have long maligned the rehabilitation department as providing woefully insufficient care and subjecting applicants to a bureaucracy so convoluted and tortuous that many were required to hire expensive lawyers to help them navigate the system.