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OpinionIsrael at War

How to better heal Israel’s wounded

Cooperation between the public health system, nonprofits and the private sector is essential to ensuring proper physical and mental rehabilitation.

Hundreds of Israelis donate blood in Jerusalem, Oct. 9, 2023. Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90
Hundreds of Israelis donate blood in Jerusalem, Oct. 9, 2023. Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90
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Philip Bendheim
Philip Bendheim is head of international affairs at Yad Sarah and a member of its Board of Overseers.

Every day at our organization Yad Sarah, we field requests for medical equipment and other rehabilitation services for injured soldiers. Due to the generosity of our donors and volunteers, we have been able to fulfill these requests, allowing more than 1,000 soldiers to date to leave the hospital and enter home rehabilitation, freeing up much-needed beds for others.

However, Israel today faces the daunting task of treating and rehabilitating thousands of injured soldiers, police officers and other security personnel, along with multitudes of citizens. As the current war continues, the government is expecting that between 12,500 and  40,0000 people will be declared permanently disabled due to war-related injuries.

The Israeli government, which funds the public health system, was caught unprepared for this. According to Knesset testimony, on Oct. 7 there were only 780 rehab beds immediately available and up to 1,200 that could be made available if all bureaucratic and financial obstacles were promptly removed. This is not enough. It constitutes only 60% of the average rehabilitation capacity in other OECD countries.

Yad Sarah was there to fill the gap. However, we are starting to feel the pinch. Our reserve stock has been depleted by additional war needs and the delivery of supplies is being delayed due to Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping routes.

Israel should have been more prepared, especially given the rising criticism of its failure to properly care for injured soldiers and veterans, including those with mental health challenges.

However, now is the time to look forward. The country owes its soldiers proper care in order to ensure a bright future for them, their families and the State of Israel. The system’s lack of preparation is a post-war subject.

The first thing to do is for the public health system to make its current shortcomings and needs clear. For example, the government should be more transparent about the exact number of injured soldiers.

When these facts are revealed, cooperation between the government, the private sector and nonprofits can be enhanced.

Such cooperation involves the government releasing and expediting budgeted funds for rehabilitation and related care. For example, a large rehab center at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem cannot be completed until it receives pledged funds from the government and more contributions from private donors.

The government should also ensure that proper funding is going to Israel’s periphery and minority populations, so that soldiers can receive ongoing care close to home and in their communities.

The parties involved must also guarantee that psychological needs are being met along with physical needs. Many who are physically injured also have PTSD and other mental scars. Treatment of the mind should take place in tandem with treatment of the body.

Mental health should be a proactive priority, not something left for soldiers to ask about themselves, as is often current practice. Soldiers’ mental health should be evaluated immediately and treatment should start promptly, just like physical first aid.

This requires greater flexibility in the health system, such as Sheba Medical Center’s three-day renovation of an area used for geriatric patients—who were moved to a different part of the hospital—to prepare it for the use of young soldiers, including common spaces, outdoor spaces and the integration of mental health care.

Treating these needs in a comprehensive way also requires organizations to work together, sharing patients and spaces as the injured advance through the stages of recovery.

We have seen this approach at work, with doctors willing to release soldiers from the hospital on the condition they receive proper equipment and help from outside organizations. At Yad Sarah, we have provided more than 2,500 soldiers with medical equipment, including wheelchairs, crutches and accessible transportation.

Nonprofit and humanitarian care organizations should focus on the role they can play in fulfilling these needs. Diaspora Jews, along with many others, are currently donating money to Israel in record amounts. Non-profits, which are an essential part of the country’s health system, need to set up more programs dedicated to rehabilitation and tell the stories that will encourage more donations. It should be emphasized that for many injured soldiers and those helping them, the rehabilitation process will be life-long.

It is only through cooperation that our soldiers and our country will be healed. This, in turn, will lay the groundwork for a more unified, stronger and healthier Israel.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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