Trauma group sees surge in appeals after veteran with PTSD self-immolates

Natal support organization reports 300% jump in calls in past day after ex-soldier sets himself alight to protest treatment by authorities, and Israel commemorates Memorial Day

Israeli soldiers lay flowers and Israeli flags on the graves of fallen soldiers at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery on April 13, 2021, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers lay flowers and Israeli flags on the graves of fallen soldiers at the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery on April 13, 2021, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A support group for Israeli veterans contending with trauma saw a surge in appeals on Tuesday, as Israel commemorated its fallen on Memorial Day and after an ex-soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder set himself on fire outside a Defense Ministry office that handles the rehabilitation of injured troops.

The Natal trauma support group saw a 300 percent jump in appeals in the past day, Channel 13 reported.

Most of the calls were from veterans of the 2014 seven-week military campaign known as Operation Protective Edge, when the IDF battled against Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip led by Hamas.

The network reported that 15% of Protective Edge veterans were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but only around 200 have been officially designated as having the condition.

The ex-soldier who self-immolated, Itzik Saidyan, served in the Golani Infantry Brigade during the conflict. He participated in the Battle of Shuja’iyya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that saw some of the fiercest clashes in the conflict.

Saidyan remains in critical condition after the self-immolation on Monday. The IDF Veteran’s Association said that 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.

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

He was interviewed about his struggle with PTSD by Channel 12 two years ago.

Recalling the deadly combat in Gaza, he said he lost seven of his brothers-in-arms within three hours of the beginning of the fighting. “And after that I spent another two and half weeks in Shuja’iyya,” he said.

Saidyan, 26, arrived at the Rehabilitation Department’s offices in Petah Tikva with a bottle full of a flammable liquid, doused himself with it, and then set himself on fire in the entryway, the Defense Ministry said in a statement Monday.

The Defense Ministry on Tuesday pledged to improve its services for disabled army veterans following Saidyan’s self-immolation.

Israeli soldiers visit graves of fallen soldiers in Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem, on April 13, 2021, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day, which begins tonight. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel ordered an investigation of the incident in order to determine what prompted Saidyan’s actions and what steps the ministry can take immediately, the ministry said.

Eshel said his ministry was responsible for driving Saidyan’s act.

“The fire that Itzik Saidyan lit is a wakeup call,” Eshel told the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday. He said the incident was “shocking on every scale.”

“Itzik is a disabled IDF veteran in our care; we are responsible and I, as the director-general of this ministry, am responsible. It is our responsibility,” he said.

Eshel ordered the formation of a commission of inquiry to look at the case, which will be led by the ministry’s planning department chief Eliav Karni, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The committee’s findings will be presented in the coming days.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visited Saidyan at the Sheba Medical Center, where he is being treated in the intensive care unit, and met with his family.

An Israeli man looks at wall with names of fallen soldiers of the armored corps in Latrun’s Military memorial, April 13, 2021, ahead of Israeli Memorial Day, which begins tonight. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the matter at the opening of a cabinet meeting on Monday evening, telling ministers he had spoken with the chairman of the IDF Veteran’s Association and “expressed my deep shock at the incident.”

President Reuven Rivlin tweeted, “I am praying tonight with all my heart for the recovery of Itzik Saidyan.”

Eshel said the ministry had already tried to improve services for disabled veterans but acknowledged its failures. He said that Saidyan was driven to act as he did “out of distress.”

Israelis paid tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers and terror victims starting on Tuesday evening, bowing their heads for a minute of silence as sirens sounded around the country to mark the start of Memorial Day.

Forty-three soldiers and civilians were killed since last Memorial Day and the total number of Israeli casualties of war stands at 23,928, according to figures released by the Defense Ministry on Friday.

Since last Memorial Day, 112 new names were added to the roster of those who died defending the country since 1860.

Forty-three were IDF soldiers, police officers, and civilians, and 69 were disabled veterans who passed away due to complications of injuries sustained during their service.

The figures include all soldiers and police who died during their service over the past year, including as a result of accidents, suicide, or illness.

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