IDF veteran who self-immolated leaves rehab center, returns home after 2 years

Itzik Saidyan says reforms promoted in wake of his protest are stalling, urges government not to forget those with PTSD: ‘I was trapped in a war that can’t be explained in words’

Itzik Saidyan (C) after his release from the rehabilitation center at Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, April 27, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Itzik Saidyan (C) after his release from the rehabilitation center at Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, April 27, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan, who sparked a national reckoning over the treatment of wounded soldiers when he self-immolated outside a Defense Ministry office for injured soldiers, left his rehabilitation center on Thursday and returned home after two years of care.

In April 2021, to protest alleged neglect by authorities, 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 had sought for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which he said stemmed from his service in the military.

In a press conference on Thursday, Saidyan said that the situation for veterans seeking help had started to deteriorate again after seeing a temporary improvement.

“It is important for me to say that the reform has stalled. It is difficult for me that this has happened but I hear from friends that the committees have returned to making it as difficult as it was before,” Saidyan said.

“I ask the government not to forget us. There are thousands like me. I was trapped at home for six years, and every day was a war that cannot be explained in words. Loneliness can kill,” he said.

“I’m not a celebrity and I don’t want to be famous. I want to go back to being the Itzik of old. What I did was the most horrible thing that can happen, and it must not happen again. I hope that I will be able to leave the spotlight,” he said, noting that his rehabilitation still had a long way to go and that he still faced a number of surgeries.

Itzik Saidyan (2nd L) after his release from the rehabilitation center at the Sheba Medical Center, in Ramat Gan, April 27, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Saidyan made a point of thanking not only the medical teams who helped him, but also the cleaners and auxiliary workers in the facilities where he was treated: “Thank you to everyone who was by my side during the battle of the last two years.”

Saidyan served in the Golani infantry brigade during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. He participated in the fighting in Shejaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

After serving in the IDF, Saidyan suffered from PTSD and was recognized as a disabled soldier, but he struggled to access help through the Defense Ministry’s rehabilitation services department.

He was recognized by the Defense Ministry as having a 25 percent disability due to his disorder, but he requested 50%. The ministry refused, saying at least a portion of his condition was due to childhood trauma, not his military service.

In a Channel 12 documentary broadcast last year, Saidyan said he had chosen the Rehabilitation Department as the location of his self-immolation because he saw it as the source of much of his suffering.

“I wanted them to see and to understand how much I suffered from them, the extent to which I was ready to die rather than go on living after what I went through with them,” he said.

Saidyan described how he stood in front of a security camera “so that they’d see me right in front of their eyes” and then set himself on fire.

Saidyan was in a coma for the first five months after his self-immolation, and underwent dozens of surgeries. He spent a year at Sheba Medical Center’s burn unit, near Tel Aviv, before he was transferred to the rehabilitation unit.

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

The Defense Ministry’s treatment for wounded veterans came under intense scrutiny following Saidyan’s grim protest.

Veterans and their advocates have long maligned the 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 had not had the political will to carry out.

Earlier this week, ahead of Memorial Day, another veteran attempted to set fire to a Defense Ministry office that handles the rehabilitation of injured soldiers.

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