Army found struggling to help ‘lone soldiers’; IDF: We’re working on it

New report details myriad ways military is failing to address needs of troops with no family support in Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (R) pose for a picture with lone soldiers at an event in Tel Aviv on January 25, 2018. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver (R) pose for a picture with lone soldiers at an event in Tel Aviv on January 25, 2018. (Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces is struggling to provide necessary and relevant services to so-called lone soldiers, troops who do not have family or support in Israel, despite being aware of many of the challenges they face, a new report by the State Comptroller’s Office said Wednesday.

There are approximately 6,800 soldiers currently serving in the Israeli army who are recognized as either not having parents in the country or not receiving financial support from home. Most of the troops who fall in the former category are new immigrants who moved to Israel alone, while the latter group is generally made up of native-born citizens from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

These lone soldiers are granted special benefits, including increased salary, housing assistance and extra vacation.

Yet State Comptroller Yosef Shapira found the army’s programs did not adequately address the needs of these lone soldiers, according to surveys of them.

The comptroller looked not only at the treatment lone soldiers get while in the army, but also in the time after they are discharged, finding that many of them struggle to fit into Israeli society upon their release from service.

“There does not exist a comprehensive, inter-agency program that defines the goals of the country regarding the integration of veteran lone soldiers, without family support, in Israeli society,” the report said.

Illustrative photo of young American olim who plan to enlist in the IDF as lone soldiers, August 17, 2015. (Nefesh B’Nefesh)

In July 2017, the IDF’s Human Resources Directorate distributed questionnaires to 6,562 lone soldiers and received responses from 893 of them.

The results were mixed, with 43 percent of those surveyed giving a positive review for the assistance given to them by the army, 32% rating it as “moderate” and 25% saying it was “negative.”

Some of the comptroller’s most significant criticisms focused on the housing options for lone soldiers.

The IDF offers these troops a few choices for places to live, including a room in a soldiers-only apartment, a bed in a charity-run “Soldier’s House” — a sort-of army hotel — or placement on a kibbutz. However, the majority of lone soldiers forego these options in favor of a modest housing allowance that allows them to rent an apartment by themselves or with roommates.

Shapira found that although these issues are “known and recognized,” the Human Resources Directorate had not examined the “failing, budgetary needs and quality of the solutions provided by the IDF to lone soldiers.”

In response, the army said it was beginning such an examination in order to improve the housing options.

One of the criticisms in the report, counter-intuitively, concerns organizations that were specifically formed to support lone soldiers, which the comptroller found were violating army protocols by directly helping them.

In a bid to move away from the IDF’s older habit of units receiving donations directly, which was found to be an unfair and problematic situation, the army required all gifts to go through one organization, known as “United for Israel’s Soldiers.”

However, the comptroller found that many groups circumvent this system.

In a statement, the army said it was aware of the issue and was working to find a new way to get donations to lone soldiers “in the near future.”

Care packages being prepared for IDF lone soldiers. (Diego Mitelberg/FIDF)

Shapira’s office also found issues in the way the army treats lone soldiers who are temporarily discharged for medical reasons, though this concerns a relatively small number of troops. In such a case, those soldiers are still entitled to their military benefits, though these are sometimes found to be insufficient, the comptroller wrote.

Most of the problems identified by Shapira’s office were already known to the army, though for some reason or another they were not being addressed, the report said. It therefore recommended that the IDF’s Human Resources Directorate set to work on investigating and fixing them.

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