by Henry Benjamin for J-Wire.com | August 25, 2014
On July 8, 2014, Israeli forces entered Gaza marking the beginning of a continuing operation to counter rockets and tunnels aimed at and built for assaults on the people of Israel.
The injuries, many of them lifelong, sustained by members of the IDF will result in swelling numbers of those who find a second home at Beit Halochem….a haven for those whose lives have been permanently physically affected by the wounds of warfare.
When the guns stopped firing at the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949, the country found itself faced with the task of tending for over 3500 wounded fighters who would be disabled for the rest of their lives.
The Government of Israel lived up to its responsibilities to provide all lifelong medical services, rehabilitation and adequate pensions for the injured…and continues to do so today.
But Beit Halochem’s Ora Seidner told J-Wire: “However, receiving disability payments every month is not what is going to habilitate them. It will not provide the challenge and the tools to allow someone to reintegrate into and become a productive member of society.”
Seidner added: “Most people around the world believe that the Israeli government takes care of all the needs of those injured
during their period of conscription. It is true that all basic needs are covered but not the services we provide.”
Beit Halochem is one of the largest not for profit charities in Israel today with more than 50,000 members…all wounded permanently while serving their country. Seidner added: “Our members were either in Zahal, the Mossad, the police or the secret service.”
The Irgun Nechei Zahal was formed in 1949 to create and preserve the rights of the disabled veterans. Five district offices throughout Israel were established to help the disabled veterans deal with government bureaucracy.
Beith Halochem was established in the 1960s…a unique project creating a sports and rehabilitation centre. Seidner told J-Wire: “Instead of being another ‘patient’ in a hospital or clinic, our members come to our centres to receive physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and all on-going treatments. But on top of that they can involve themselves, and their families, in a wide array of activities with the emphasis of using sport as a rehabilitative tool.
The injured often arrive at Beit Halochem directly from hospital, many of them still in bandages and in wheelchairs and we generate enthusiasm for them by the use of sport in their recovery.”
She added: “The creation of a daily or monthly challenge in achievement oriented sports, seeing themselves improving in their activities and getting better physically and mentally, helps them overcome their disability.”
The meeting of generations at the centres is powerful. Seidner told J-Wire: “Someone who is just 19 and has lost the ability to walk meets men and women in their 80s with similar disabilities who got married, had children and made careers for themselves and they got on with life. It’s a natural support unit where the older generation mentors the younger.”
Seidner said that in many instances the spouse of a severely injured and traumatised patient will persuade them not to sit at home moping at home but join them at Beit Halochem. She added: “While the husband is receiving treatment, the wife can play bridge with friends while their kids can join their friends in the pool.”
Of the 50,000 disabled veterans, 12,000 make regular use of the Beit Halochem centres in Tel Aviv, Beersheva, Jerusalem and Haifa. Seider said: “Beith Halochem becomes a second home for them. Most of the severely disabled make up the majority of those who use the centres.”
Beit Halochem is also a serious training facility for those who participate in the 20-30 sports offered preparing for major international events including the Paralympics.
The centres also provide arts and crafts, music lessons…”you name it, we do it” said the enthusiastic Seidner.
She continued: “What you won’t see here is self-pity. No-one feels sorry for himself or herself. They walk proudly with their heads held high. Israel is a small society which embraces her wounded veterans… so small almost everyone knows someone who is a disabled veteran.”
Seidner told J-Wire of a project funded by an American woman which brings Americans severely wounded while fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, to Beit Halochem where they bond with the Israeli veterans. She said: “They don’t want to leave. They see something in Israel that they cannot have in the USA”.
At Beit Halochem the treatment by the physiotherapists is paid for by the government. Seidner explained: “They use our equipment and facilities, however, which were paid for by donations received from around the world.”
Among the external sports organized by Beit Halochem in Tel Aviv are rowing, sailing, biking and equestrian activities…all financed by donations.
Funding for these activities comes from outside donors. Seidner explained: “The government provides us with around 20% of our operating costs. We depend on supporters for the balance. Three years ago the Beersheva centre opened at a cost of US$23 million. This was raised 100% from donations.
The benefits on offer from Beit Halochem are not confined to those injured in combat. Seidner explains: “Anyone who has
given three years of their life to their country is eligible for any injury incurred during that period. So the spread is from
combat to being injured in a road accident when on leave.”
Clarifying the plight of the permanently disabled Seidner said that “once a disabled veteran is discharged from the IDF , the
army has nothing to do with him or her any longer.” Unlike the US army which will continue to use the services of a disabled veteran, the IDF issues an automatic discharge although there are rare cases where a veteran with special skills might rejoin an elite unit.
The Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization frequently witnesses its members traveling the globe speaking at fund-raising functions for major Jewish organizations with most of the donors remaining totally unaware of the ZDVO’s existence and its own need for funds.
As this article goes to press, J-Wire asked Ora Seidner about the impact of the current war. Her report: “There will, most likely, be about 200 new members joining the ranks of our organization. I cannot tell you centre by centre how many will join each one.
We are hosting a group of wounded veterans for their first visit to Beit Halochem on August 31st. They will be brought here by special vans from the Tel Hashomer Rehab. Centre with their families. We will give them a tour of the facility, host them for dinner and have a well-known stand-up comedian entertain them.
At the moment, of the nearly 500 who were wounded and hospitalized (several hundred more were wounded but not hospitalized, i.e. treated in a field hospital and returned to battle) the majority have been released and gone home. There are close to 100 who remain in hospital and will certainly become members of the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization and their Beit Halochem Rehabilitation, Sports and Recreation Centres. These are the severely wounded who will mostly remain with a severe, lifelong
disability. For now, they are formally still members of the IDF. The transition of their discharge and joining our organization can take a few months. For most it is almost immediate.
There will be at least another 100 who escaped with no physical injuries from the war but will nevertheless develop PTSD and will be diagnosed as suffering from varying degrees of PTSD. For some, this is something that is evident almost from the beginning. In others, it may take a few weeks, months or even years before the symptoms suddenly creep up on them and burst out with no prior warning.”