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Defense Ministry director says office looking to advance major reforms in treatment of wounded veterans

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

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

The director-general of the Defense Ministry says his office is looking to advance significant reforms in how it treats wounded veterans, after one such former soldier lit himself on fire last week after years of struggling to receive the care he requested.

Amir Eshel, who has been in his position for nearly a year, acknowledges that his ministry “failed” the veteran, Itzik Saidyan, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his service in the 2014 Gaza war. However, Eshel rebuffs criticism that his ministry ignored the problems with the long-maligned Rehabilitation Department, maintaining that a number of proposals to address these issues had been raised, but the most recent round of elections prevented them from being carried out.

“The elections are behind us, so we’re taking it forward,” Eshel tells reporters in a video conference.

Asked how the Defense Ministry intended to enact these sweeping and likely expensive reforms when the current interim government has failed to perform basic functions, such as purchasing vaccines and approving a new justice minister, Eshel says he believes that, unlike with those matters, there is a general understanding that something must be done and what should be done to “fix and improve” the Rehabilitation Department.

“There’s consensus. There is support for this change, for this significant change,” Eshel says.

Eshel says his ministry, which recently appointed an executive commission to carry out the reforms, was working to address four core issues with the Rehabilitation Department: the quality of the care that veterans receive; the accessibility of that care; ensuring veterans make full use of the benefits to which they are entitled; and improving the way in which former soldiers are recognized as wounded veterans.

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