In recording, army vet heard speaking for first time since self-immolation

PTSD-afflicted former soldier Itzik Saidyan, who set himself on fire in April to protest alleged neglect by state, issues well-wishes to medical staff on national Doctor’s Day

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

A former soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder who has been hospitalized since lighting himself on fire in April in protest was publicly heard speaking for the first time on Tuesday.

Itzik Saidyan self-immolated to protest alleged neglect by authorities in a case that prompted a national reckoning over care for military veterans.

Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, where Saidyan is hospitalized, released a recording of Saidyan thanking medical staff in honor of Israel’s national Doctor’s Day.

“Hello dear doctors. I, Itzik Saidyan, want to wish you a happy and joyful day and to thank Sheba hospital, the Burn Unit and all the doctors, Prof. [Yosef] Hayek and Dr. [Moti] Haratz, and all the nurses,” Saidyan says, sounding slightly out of breath.

Saidyan’s condition has improved significantly in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, he went outdoors for the first time in a wheelchair. Saidyan was brought out of his coma in September and had begun breathing on his own months before.

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 requested for post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said stemmed from his service in the Israeli military.

His self-immolation has 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.

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.

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

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