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Memorial Day

IDF vet who self-immolated: We remember fallen friends all year, not just on one day

PTSD sufferer Itzik Saidyan, who set himself on fire to protest neglect by authorities, releases audio clip on eve of Memorial Day, thanks public for support

IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)
IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)

A former soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who self-immolated last year released a message on Tuesday, the eve of Memorial Day, saying that those who have fallen are remembered every day of the year.

Itzik Saidyan set himself on fire outside a Defense Ministry office to protest alleged neglect by authorities in a case that prompted a national reckoning over care for military veterans.

“Soon it is Memorial Day. What is Memorial Day for me? For me, it is Israeliness more than anything. Because we all end up giving each other strength in this sadness. It is a day of many thoughts and emotions,” he said in an audio clip released by the Kan public broadcaster, which was accompanied by images of Saidyan surfing before his protest.

“First of all I want to say that I share the grief of the bereaved families and reach out to my wounded friends in the IDF,” he said.

“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.

“Thank you for giving me strength in my rehabilitation. I send strength, hugs and love to you,” he said.

Saidyan’s condition has improved significantly in recent months. He was so badly burnt that medics were skeptical whether he would live. But after more than 30 surgeries, he has made steady progress in what his family has called a miraculous process of 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, Channel 12 news reported Saidyan had been moved from the burn unit to the rehabilitation unit at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, where he has been hospitalized. However, the report said his condition was still “complicated.”

Saidyan set himself on fire outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Rehabilitation Department for disabled soldiers, 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.

Protesters hold signs reading, ‘We are all Itzik Saidyan,’ outside the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department in Petah Tikva, April 14, 2021. (Flash90)

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.

After Saidyan’s self-immolation and the accompanying outcry, the Defense Ministry sought to implement reforms that it had for years been considering, but lacked the political will to carry out.

Last year, the government announced that it had reached a compromise on a Defense Ministry plan to reform treatment for wounded veterans.

The problems faced by veterans have additionally been addressed this year with the scrapping of multiple fireworks shows for Independence Day, with officials citing objections from those who suffer from PTSD.

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