newsIsrael at War

Surge of disabled vets exposes cracks in Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Dept.

A spokesperson for the dept. told JNS that 14,000 newly disabled veterans are expected by the end of the calendar year, in addition to the 6,000 already registered since Oct. 7.

Shachar, an IDF reservist injured in Gaza, with Belev Echad volunteer Gal Rosenberg, who was also once wounded in battle, at Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah. Credit: Belev Echad.
Shachar, an IDF reservist injured in Gaza, with Belev Echad volunteer Gal Rosenberg, who was also once wounded in battle, at Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah. Credit: Belev Echad.

Amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas, the country’s Defense Ministry has signaled a looming challenge, with its Rehabilitation Department preparing for the admission of about 20,000 new disabled veterans by the end of 2024. This anticipated surge underscores the devastating human cost of the war and has sparked a critical discussion about the support systems in place for those wounded during their military service. 

A spokesperson for the Rehabilitation Department told JNS that the Department has already seen an influx of nearly 6,000 newly certified disabled soldiers, and is bracing for some additional 14,000 by the end of 2024, bringing the total to 20,000 by the end of the calendar year. 

According to a public statement made by the Defense Ministry toward the end of February, “The majority of the injured IDF soldiers (95%) are men. Specifically, 46% of the casualties are aged 21-30, 36% are aged 31-40, and 18% are over 40. Seventy percent of the casualties admitted to the Rehabilitation Department were reservists, 7% were active-duty, 10% were soldiers discharged due to injury, and 13% were police and security forces.”  

“Most of the injured being treated today are dealing with physical injuries, but we anticipate that some of them will also face psychological injuries,” the spokesperson said. “Therefore, the focus in the first year is on rehabilitation and recovery while providing all the necessary responses—medical, psychological and economic.”

However, the Rehabilitation Department’s ability to effectively deliver on the promise of support is now being called into serious question. A recent State Comptroller’s report excoriated the department for providing substandard care that left most disabled veterans dissatisfied—citing lack of proper treatment, humiliation and distrust in how cases are handled.

In a recent hearing of the Knesset’s State Control Committee, Knesset member Miki Levy (Yesh Atid), who heads the committee, declared that this issue will require long-term planning.

“War casualties will require long-term accompaniment and rehabilitation—a five-year plan is needed that will significantly enhance the Rehabilitation Department and the civilian health system that provide treatment for IDF disabled veterans, as their accompaniment will likely be for a very long period,” said Levy.

Attorney Idan Klaiman, who serves as the chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, explained what the current issues are that have hindered effective rehabilitation.

“The future is not good. Before the war, there was a severe shortage of services. The current ratio of [caregivers to recipients] after the outbreak of the war is 1 to 4,000. In [civilian] healthcare, it’s no more than 1 to 1,500, where most of the recipients are healthy people. We’re talking about injured [soldiers] needing constant, chronic care. The injured feel it in terms of medical errors,” he said.

Klaiman added that a lot of the problem stems from inadequate compensation for practitioners.

“In the ’90s, doctors’ salaries [for rehabilitation] were double that of doctors in healthcare, but the situation today is reversed and there’s no chance of recruiting more doctors. They do not receive bonuses and are not part of the labor union salary agreements. I see a lack of concern from the department’s bureaucracy. The stingy and rigid hand regarding this sensitive issue will lead them in the future to indifference; there will be victims in body and soul,” he said.

Dr. Zeev Feldman, the chairman of the State Doctors Association, pointed out during the committee meeting that, “Availability is the core of the discussion. There’s no budget issue, the pressure needs to be on the bureaucracy which rejects every solution. Over the years, we’ve been trying to find solutions, and there are always excuses and threats. There are currently discussions about a collective agreement, I hope there will be a solution soon that will provide the right leverage. There are 22 positions but they are not staffed—all doctors who want to join should be allowed to. Given the existing and expected crisis, we need to provide significant salary incentives to solve the problem.”

Health representative in the Treasury Asaf Galperin responded: “The salaries of doctors in the Defense Ministry are subject to collective wage agreements. A few years ago, we approached the Medical Association to apply for a specific agreement, but it was rejected. Since there was no cooperation, we independently provided significant grants to the rehabilitation department to recruit staff. Currently, negotiations are underway with the Medical Association in various contexts. There is a widespread shortage of doctors in Israel, but particularly in rehabilitation.” 

As Israel grapples with the implications of the war, those who bear its scars have been thrust into the spotlight. The stories of these injured soldiers, coupled with the inadequate rehabilitation services outlined by experts such as attorney Klaiman and MK Levy, paint a bleak picture of the looming crisis as the numbers of those requiring services continue to climb, and the need for comprehensive support within the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Dept. only increases.

As the nation faces the prospect of 14,000 additional disabled veterans this year, the call for action is clear. If Israel can hope to provide its injured veterans with the support and dignity they deserve, the shortage of doctors and proper staff in the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Dept. must be solved. This moment serves as a critical juncture, one that will likely define the nation’s commitment to its injured veterans and heroes in the years to come.

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