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April 14, 2021 5:37 pm

Self-Immolation of IDF Veteran With PTSD Highlights Struggles of Disabled Soldiers as Israel Launches Investigation

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Itzik Saidyan, the IDF veteran who set himself on fire outside a Defense Ministry office on April 12, 2021. Photo: Channel 12/Screenshot.

As Israel honored its fallen soldiers and victims of terror on the national day of memorial, the country’s Defense Ministry said it would launch an in-depth investigation into the circumstances that led to the tragic self-immolation attempt of Israel Defense Forces veteran Itzik Saidian outside the government’s Rehabilitation Department on Monday.

“We have a moral obligation to do everything possible to help disabled IDF soldiers, our best sons, who have paid the heaviest price so that we can live here in safety,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said late Tuesday, on the eve of Yom Hazikaron.

According to Hebrew press reports, Saidian, 26 — a veteran of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, who remains in very critical condition — was acknowledged by the Defense Ministry as having “25% disability” as he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Saidian was frustrated as the ministry had rejected his request for 50% disability recognition, on the grounds that part of his condition was due to childhood trauma, not his military service.

In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster, Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel acknowledged the government’s failures. “The fire that Itzik Saidian lit is a wakeup call” and “shocking on every scale,” Eshel said, adding that Saidian is a disabled IDF veteran in the ministry’s care. “We are responsible and I, as the director-general of this ministry, am responsible. It is our responsibility,” he said.

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As Israel marked Yom Hazikaron Wednesday, dozens of IDF disabled veterans demonstrated at the place where Saidian burned himself, carrying signs that read, “We are all Itzik Saidian. No one just burns himself. The system set him on fire.”

The Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization (ZDVO) — Beit Halochem, where Saidian was a member — called upon the Israeli authorities which deal with IDF veterans to “change their attitude.” The non-profit organization, which was established in the wake of the War of Independence (1949) said that sometimes we at Beit Halochem are not enough,” and that the Israeli government needed to provide more support and treat IDF veterans with dignity and respect.

“We will not allow such case to happen again. Our hearts are broken. We are in shock and disbelief. Itzik couldn’t find peace, suffering from serious PTSD. He came to Beit Halochem regularly, he enjoyed the music room, being with his friends, listening to music,” ZDVO stated on their Facebook page. “We want to believe that these hours gave him some relief from the demons which haunted him, but obviously it wasn’t enough.”

“The State of Israel sends our amazing young men and women into battle to fight for its sovereignty, many of whom don’t come back, and some of those who do come back return with broken bodies and minds. ZDVO Beit Halochem and its Chairman Edan Kleiman, will continue to fight for the rights of the disabled who have paid a heavy price physically and mentally so that we can all sleep peacefully at night knowing our soldiers are backed up 100% by the state,” ZDVO added.

According to Sharon Shtrachman — co-director of the Israel program at Belev Echad, an organization serving wounded Israeli veterans — one of the main hardships faced by injured IDF soldiers who suffer from PTSD is having to fight for Defense Ministry disability recognition.

“After fighting for the country in Gaza and other places and getting injured the traumatized soldiers need to sue the Defense Ministry for their entitlements, which is the next post-traumatic experience,” Shtrachman, whose daughter was one of four Israeli Border Police wounded in a car-ramming attack near east Jerusalem in 2015, told The Algemeiner. “Many of them, who are already in extreme despair situations, need to make their case by collating many documents and go through committees headed by doctors who determine whether they are lying or not.”

Shtrachman said that to help in the process of getting the required disability recognition, the soldiers are advised to take a lawyer, which can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $50,000.

“Many soldiers are alone with this burden, so we help by sharing some of the legal costs,” she added. “We believe in the individual treatment so in some cases we provide them with a dog which can help with bringing back confidence and others we encourage to go surfing with mentors.”

As part of the program, Belev Echad also sponsors the visit of six groups of 12 IDF veterans to New York a year.

“The love, support and recognition the IDF soldiers get from the American Jewish community is beyond words and helps them in the mental recovery. In Israel you are part of the club if you become wounded or a victim, while in the US they are made to feel heroes,” said Shtrachman.

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