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IDF veteran dies two days after self-immolation due to rejection of PTSD recognition

A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who set himself on fire after his application to be recognized as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was denied died on Thursday, two days after the self-immolation at his home in the coastal city of Netanya.

Bar Kalaf, 33, was taken to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on Tuesday with severe burns on his entire body. He was declared dead on Thursday. There was no immediate comment from the hospital.

The Defense Ministry has said Kalaf’s application to be recognized as suffering from PTSD as a result of his military service had been denied.

Kalaf served in the military between 2008 and 2011, and was called up as a reservist during the 2014 Gaza war.

After his service, he submitted an application to be recognized as a wounded vet, which would have made him eligible for state support and benefits.

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The ministry on Thursday said it “shares in the grief of the Kalaf family over Bar Kalaf’s death.”

This photo shows first responders in the coastal city of Netanya on August 1, 2023, where a man was seriously hurt after setting himself on fire. (Courtesy)

“Kalaf’s request was thoroughly examined by the best psychiatrists of the Defense Ministry, and no connection was found between his mental illness, which is not PTSD, and his military service,” it said.

A Defense Ministry source claimed that according to mental health experts, “there are a number of mental illnesses that occur with young people up to the age of 30. These illnesses are not related to military service.”

Kalaf’s mother, Kochava, spoke with the Walla news site on Tuesday, saying: “He was desperate, couldn’t get help.”

“We asked the Defense Ministry for recognition. My son told me that he couldn’t manage with the door being closed to him. This matter needs to be investigated further, because, after all, he is not in good shape,” she added then.

In April, hours before Israel marked its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, an IDF veteran attempted to set fire to a Defense Ministry office that handles the rehabilitation of injured soldiers. The ministry at the time said the man was apparently disgruntled as his application to be recognized as a wounded veteran had been dismissed in 2013.

The Defense Ministry is seen along with other buildings in Tel Aviv, August 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Two years ago, IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan self-immolated outside the Petah Tikva offices of the Rehabilitation Department for disabled soldiers, in a case that attracted national attention to the plight of IDF veterans traumatized by events that happened during their military service.

Saidyan, who has since mostly recovered, said he had struggled for years to receive the care he’d requested for PTSD, which he said stemmed from his service in the military.

The Defense Ministry’s treatment of wounded veterans came under intense scrutiny following Saidyan’s grim protest.

Veterans and their advocates have long maligned the department as providing woefully insufficient care and subjecting applicants to a bureaucracy so convoluted and tortuous that many are required to hire expensive lawyers to help them navigate the system.

Following Saidyan’s self-immolation and the accompanying outcry, the Defense Ministry has been implementing some reforms that it had been considering for years but had not had the political will to carry out.