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Wounded IDF veteran dies by suicide; family says ministry refused to recognize PTSD

Sister of Itzik Chen, 48, says he was denied the care he needed after he was ‘scarred’ by military service; Defense Ministry says he suffered from other mental health issues

Itzik Chen (Courtesy)
Itzik Chen (Courtesy)

An injured Israel Defense Forces veteran who struggled to get officials to recognize that his mental health issues were related to his service died by suicide on Sunday.

Itzik Chen, 48, was injured in a parachuting accident in 1992 and was recognized as having physical disabilities by the Defense Ministry, but he was unable to get assistance for mental health issues.

His applications for aid and recognition of the mental illness he suffered in the years following his service were rejected on multiple occasions, both by the ministry and the courts, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Chen had served as a paratrooper in Lebanon and in the West Bank and his family said he was a sniper who also carried out undercover operations.

His sister Sigalit Katsav told Kan that Chen was severely traumatized by his service.

“At the time, we did not understand what post-trauma is; we did not talk about this issue. He said that Hezbollah knew what he had done in Lebanon and that they were pursuing him. He fought in Nablus and his friend was slaughtered and Itzik saw everything. He was a sniper and worked undercover, and that left him scarred,” she said.

“He was a happy child, but after the army he wasn’t the same. He just stared at the ceiling all day. You do not understand what is happening in the committees [that determine care and compensation] — they are abusing our boys,” she said.

Idan Kleiman, head of the Organization of Wounded Veterans, said soldiers required immediate help.

“Once again, a tragic story about a fighter who fell between the cracks,” he said. “There needs to be a change in perceptions but first we need to get treatment for the soldiers and then there must be a reckoning.”

Idan Kleiman in Tel Aviv, April 22, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In a statement, the Defense Ministry expressed condolences but said that Chen’s mental health issues were unrelated to his military service.

“The Defense Ministry shares the deep grief of Itzik’s family and is examining the circumstances of the incident,” the statement read. “Preliminary investigation shows that the background is not actually related to PTSD, but to another illness that cannot be specified for reasons of medical confidentiality.”

Chen’s death came after Itzik Saidyan, a veteran with PTSD, self-immolated in April in protest at the Defense Ministry’s treatment of wounded veterans.

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.

Screen capture from video of IDF disabled veteran Itzik Saidyan talking about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Channel 12 News)

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.

He remains hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center.

Veterans and their advocates have long maligned the rehabilitation department as providing woefully insufficient care and subjecting applicants to a bureaucracy so convoluted and torturous 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 reached a compromise on a Defense Ministry plan to reform treatment for wounded veterans.

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