In a stormy session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, the IDF disclosed that it is funding treatment for no fewer than 4,649 veterans who have been stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
At the meeting, some Knesset members alleged that the state has “abandoned” those who suffer from combat trauma. They charged that “15 years after the Knesset voted for treatment for soldiers with PTSD, we are talking here about bureaucratic abuse of people who were sent into battle on our behalf and returned with injuries, even if they are not the kind that is visible.
“They have to prove their inability to work, and there is insufficient state support for those who qualify, and the non-profit and volunteer groups who seek to fill the gap do not have the resources to do so. We demand that the state take responsibility.”
Deputy Director-General of the Defense Ministry Brig. Gen. (Res.) Hezi Mashita informed the committee that 4,649 IDF veterans are recognized with PTSD and are treated by the Rehabilitation Department of the Defense Ministry. About half of them receive compensation and subsistence allowance in accordance with their recognized disability.
Mashita gave further details: 143 soldiers injured in Operation Defensive Shield were recognized with a PTSD disability level of 20 percent or more. They are treated in the Rehabilitation Department, and are in the process of rehabilitation with the assistance of a multi-disciplinary team (CM). Most of them also suffer from a combined physical and mental injury: 40 percent of them are currently being funded by the Defense Ministry as part of the rehabilitation process, 26 percent are employed, and the rest are in different stages of the rehabilitation program.
Mashita defended the government’s program, saying that “the rehabilitation department is assisted by professionals and the best experts in Israel, invests considerable resources in developing advanced treatment methods for victims of post-trauma and is now considered one of the leading organizations in the world in this field. IDF veterans who have been recognized as post-trauma victims are entitled to extensive assistance in the areas of rehabilitation, medicine and welfare; and the Defense Ministry operates a wide range of occupational rehabilitation for them, including unique treatment frameworks.
“We are working to improve constantly to streamline the process, and together with the IDF are taking steps to increase awareness among post-traumatic soldiers of the phenomenon of post-trauma and ways to treat them,” he said.
However, the committee was also told that while the U.S. Army reports that 16 percent of its combat veterans suffer from PTSD, in the IDF the figure is only 3 percent who are recognized as such. The discrepancy suggests that many soldiers afflicted with post-combat trauma go through the rest of their lives without the treatment or support they need.
One of the PTSD sufferers who participated in Tuesday’s meeting told of his experience:
“Ten psychiatrists didn’t even ask what happened to me (in combat). They listened to me for an hour-and-a-half and then decided that I had nightmares from childhood, long before I entered the army. Then how did they accept me into the paratroops?” he asked.
“Every two hours I wake up from nightmares of terrorists breaking into my house, or that the whole neighborhood is on fire.
“We need warmth and support. Instead, you trample on us. We are committing suicide, and even that you aren’t looking into.”
The committee members concluded that the disparity between the IDF’s official presentation of the facts and the complaints from soldiers and outside experts requires further examination.