Plan to reform care for veterans stalls as Netanyahu, Gantz quarrel over funding

Defense minister accuses PM, finance minister of holding up proposal; they say the Defense Ministry should come up with some of the money

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset, April 6, 2021. (Knesset spokesperson)

Plans to reform the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department to provide better care for wounded veterans came to a halt this week as political rivals Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz fought over the source of funding for the NIS 350 million ($108 million) proposal.

Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry unveiled its plans to improve the treatment for wounded veterans, dubbed “One Soul,” which would entail internal changes of its protocols, as well as require government approvals and some new legislation.

The cabinet was due to discuss the proposal last week, but that was postponed due to a fight within the government over the appointment of a justice minister. The discussion was rescheduled to Sunday, but was again delayed, as the cabinet canceled its meeting out of respect for the 45 people who were killed in the Mount Meron disaster last week.

According to Gantz, his ministry had been meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Finance Ministry and the Justice Ministry over the past few weeks, and had reached a number of agreements on how the plan would proceed, when on Monday, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz suddenly “reneged on their agreements… and refused to bring the proposal for a hearing in the government.”

Gantz’s office said he therefore submitted the plan with the cabinet secretary for discussion himself.

The Prime Minister’s Office blamed the holdup on the Defense Ministry, saying it should be responsible for providing at least NIS 75 million ($23 million) of the funding for the program in 2021, and NIS 150 million ($46 million) in 2022 from its existing budget.

The delay drew harsh condemnation from the Organization of Wounded Veterans, which played a key role in formulating the plan.

“Just yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Tzahi Braverman and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Asher Hayoun, promised us that this would pass and that there was the requisite budget. There was an agreement and they are violating it,” the chairman of the organization, Idan Kleiman, told the Maariv newspaper.

The “One Soul” plan calls for a significant increase in the number of staff working for the Rehabilitation Department as well as a major overhaul of the mechanisms for recognizing injuries caused by military service and funding their treatment, especially for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan. (Facebook)

The Defense Ministry’s much-maligned Rehabilitation Department came under heightened scrutiny after a veteran with PTSD, Itzik Saidyan, who had struggled to receive help from the ministry, set himself on fire outside the department’s offices in Petah Tikva earlier this month.

Following Saidyan’s self-immolation on April 13, Gantz ordered an internal probe of the Rehabilitation Department and formed a committee to carry out changes in the organization.

The Rehabilitation Department has long been criticized, both by veterans’ groups and in government probes, for having an excessively complicated and difficult system of establishing if an applicant can be recognized as having injuries caused by or during their military service. The process can in some cases take several years, during which the applicant may not be eligible to receive the assistance they require. This is considered especially true for veterans suffering from PTSD, who can be subjected to probes by Defense Ministry investigators looking for reasons why their conditions may not have been caused by their military service.

As part of the ministry’s reforms, additional staff would be added to the Rehabilitation Department, more services would be made available online, legal assistance would be provided to veterans for dealing with department bureaucracy, and the process for recognizing injuries as having been caused by or occurred during military service would be made easier and faster. In addition, the invasive background checks will no longer be conducted, according to the Defense Ministry.

The majority of the reforms the Defense Ministry plans to roll out come from a Knesset commission led by former MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, which was completed last year, but never implemented.

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