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As protesters block TLV highway for hours, PM vows reform for soldiers with PTSD

Meeting with head of IDF disabled veterans group, Netanyahu admits mental health care services out of date, says ‘terrible injustice’ to be rectified within weeks

Israeli veterans and disabled IDF soldiers protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv for better financial and medical aid, April 18, 2021.(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israeli veterans and disabled IDF soldiers protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv for better financial and medical aid, April 18, 2021.(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Amid a growing outcry over alleged government neglect of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with IDF Disabled Veterans Organization chairman Idan Kliman Sunday afternoon, and vowed to pass governmental reform on the issue within two weeks.

The meeting, which came a week after an IDF veteran suffering from PTSD set himself alight outside a Defense Ministry Rehabilitation Department office, took place as hundreds protested current government benefits, blocking Tel Aviv’s central Ayalon highway for hours and demonstrating outside the Defense Ministry.

In public comments made during the meeting, Netanyahu admitted that mental health services currently available to IDF veterans were out of date, saying that the “terrible injustice” would be rectified with a cabinet decision to pass a reform package.

“The distress of handicapped and wounded IDF veterans is real. We have not updated the arrangements among them in many years. Both first aid and comprehensive reforms are needed,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from his office.

Israeli veterans and disabled IDF soldiers protest outside the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv for better financial and medical aid, April 18, 2021.(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“We will bring both first aid and a comprehensive reform of treatment for the wounded, the handicapped and those suffering from PTSD. We will do this in the cabinet within two weeks. I think that it is very important, corrects a terrible injustice and deals with the distress,” the prime minister said, adding that he had coordinated the reform package with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second from right) meets with chairman of the Handicapped IDF Veterans Organization, Idan Kleiman (second from left), April 18, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Gantz on Thursday said he was setting up a public committee to plan a reform of the ministry’s Rehabilitation Department for disabled veterans, days after the self-immolation of Itzik Saidyan, 26, who remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Saidyan on Monday arrived at the Rehabilitation Department’s offices in Petah Tikva with a bottle full of a flammable liquid, doused himself with it, and then set himself on fire in the entryway.

The IDF Veteran’s Association has said that 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.

IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan, who set himself alight outside a Defense Ministry office on April 12, 2021 (screenshot: Channel 12)

Saidyan served in the Golani Infantry Brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in the Battle of Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Kliman said, “We are in very difficult times. Our friend is lying burned in the hospital… The pain is truly very great and the historical distortions demand immediate repair.”

In Tel Aviv, the central Ayalon thoroughfare was blocked for several hours Sunday as demonstrators protesting against the government’s care for soldiers filled the street opposite the Defense Ministry.

Speaking at the demonstration, Saidyan’s sister Leah said: “Itzik’s thunderous cry is your thunderous cry. The cry of thousands of combat soldiers who have not been heard.”

She said that that the protesters would not suffice with “more committees and more reports” and would continue demonstrating until real change is seen.

“We’ve talked enough and now is the time to move forward,” she said.

Several more protests are planned for later in the week.

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