Hundreds of disabled Israeli veterans and their caregivers protested in the streets of Tel Aviv on Sunday. They called for the end of the Defense Ministry’s “abandonment of the IDF’s handicapped.”

Last week disabled IDF veteran Itzik Saidian set himself on fire at an office of the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Division triggering the protests.

The protests blocked the intersection of Kaplan Street next to Azrieli Center and one side of the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv.

Idan Kleiman, chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, said that “the Defense Ministry’s Disability Rehabilitation Division is in a state of total disarray, both in terms of its functionality and values.” Furthermore, he slammed its “scandalous treatment” of handicapped veterans.

“It is time for a deep revolution and comprehensive reform,” he added in an interview with the Haaretz media service.

Many of the disabled Israeli veterans claim that their care is poor, substandard, and infringes on their basic rights.

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Israelis block the highway in Tel Aviv to protest care for veterans. (Haaretz photo)

Dr. Moti Harats, an expert in the national burn unit, said that Saidian underwent a three-hour surgery on Sunday at the Sheba Medical Center. He is still in critical condition, intubated and sedated, and doctors are fighting to save his life. 

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Saidian, a 26-year-old veteran of the Golani Brigade, was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after seeing combat in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014

According to his family and friends, correspondence between him and the rehabilitation department, as well as the department’s behavior, pushed him to the edge. This led to setting himself on fire once arriving at the offices of the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Division in Petah Tikva.

Some of his friends and fellow veterans harshly criticized the Defense Ministry for failing not only Saidian but many other veterans in need. Yaron Porter, a friend of Saidian’s, in an interview with KAN Reshet Bet Public Radio said, “Who decides what is caused by what? He lost his friends. You have to prove you’re not a liar; he was rejected every time. They brought him to the edge. The writing was written in blood on the wall.”

“He carried the post-trauma from Shaja’iya. He suffered severe shell shock. He suffered from severe nightmares. You can see all kinds of levels of post-trauma – he was very introverted and quiet. He suffered greatly,” Porter added.

Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in the battle of  Shaja’iya.

“There are nightmares at night, sleep is not really sleeping. You usually go back to the battle, you’re kind of walking dead after a night like this,” Porter said. “There are tantrums, nerves, lack of concentration, bursts of crying. I blame the Rehabilitation Division directly for what happened.”

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said that Israel owed its veterans a “great debt.”

Kohavi visited the hospital and spent time with Saidian’s family.

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“On behalf of myself and the entire IDF, I wish a speedy and complete recovery to Itzik Saidian, a former soldier in the Golani Brigade who is hospitalized in serious condition,” Kohavi said. “Among our fighters and our reservists are those whose injuries cannot be seen and they carry in their minds the scars of battle for many years.”

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Israeli soldiers in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge during 2014. (IDF photo)

“The IDF and the people of Israel owe a great debt to those who risk their lives for the protection of the state, and we must do everything we can to fight for them,” he added.

The Defense Ministry vowed to form an investigation committee into the case. The ministry’s director-general Amir Eshel said in an interview with KAN Bet that his office is responsible for Saidian’s condition. “Itzik is a disabled soldier in our care, we are responsible, and I, as the director-general of the ministry, am responsible.”

“It is something that we will look at seriously, in-depth, and in the understanding that this is an outcome that we must try in every way to prevent its recurrence [sic],” he added. 

Saidian’s sister said that she was speaking for thousands of Israeli veterans, who, like her brother, suffer from PTSD. “Make sure this is the last case. Don’t close the door on these soldiers,” she said.

Unfortunately, American veterans struggling with PTSD face similar issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs.