Behind the Headlines Israeli Consulate-general Aids Israeli War Veterans Sent to the U.S. for Medica

Although Israel has developed a remarkable network of medical services in her short history, the continual strains of war occasionally leave the country with soldiers whose medical needs can be met best abroad. Ever since 1948 Israel has sent wounded war veterans for medical help in other countries, including the United States, and as the diagnoses of Yom Kippur War veterans were made these past few months, those who could not obtain adequate help in Israel were sent overseas for care.

Israeli war veterans in the U.S. are sent here by Israel’s Department for Rehabilitation in the Ministry of Defense, which pays medical and hospital hills, plane fare, and living expenses for the veteran and his escort (usually a wife, brother, or other family member). When they reach the U.S., the veterans and their companions are met by representatives of the Israeli Consulate in New York, who take them to a hotel, register them, and help arrange medical–and social–activities.

Rivka Sivan, the head of the Consulate Section in the Consulate-General of Israel in New York, coordinates the activities of the veterans and their escorts, many of whom do not speak English and have never before left their homeland. Consulate staff members often take the veterans to dinner, help their companions shop and arrange visits to the hospital if the veteran must stay in one while his companion waits for the rehabilitation process to end.

SOME STAY FOR AS LONG AS ONE YEAR

While some veterans are in the U.S. for as little as four weeks, others must stay as long as one year, said Mrs. Sivan. "They will not leave the U.S. until everything possible is done for them," she said. "Many have children at home and don’t like to stay away too long, but when they come here the boys are willing to get as much care as they can."

Mrs. Sivan said that although the veterans’ medical problems are far-ranging, a great many come for treatments on their eyes, including the removal of foreign bodies from the eye and training in the use of seeing-eye dogs. Israel once had a seeing-eye dog institute, but when the head of it died some years ago, the country found that it was to expensive to maintain such an institute. Now Israelis in need of guide dogs must come to the U.S. for a four-week training period.

On the day the Jewish Telegraphic Agency interviewed Mrs. Sivan, a veteran who had received a guide dog in San Raphael, outside San Francisco, came to the Consulate offices with his wife to confirm arrangements for his trip home that evening. The man had been in Germany for two weeks, during which he was fitted with glass eyes, and then flew to San Francisco to the guide dog institute. His wife could only see him on weekends during his four weeks of training, and as soon as the training was finished, the couple came to New York for a two-day visit.

"They are anxious to get back to Israel," Mrs. Sivan said after the couple had gone. "They have two children–girls, three-and five-years-old–who they left on their kibbutz." The man had not been with his children for a long time, she said, for after his Yom Kippur War injury he had been in the hospital for quite a while, and then he had been abroad for six weeks.

While in New York, the man and his wife purchased a tandem bicycle so that he could peddle as his wife did the steering. He also bought a basketball with a ring inside, so that he could follow the ball’s travel by ear. When the veteran and his wife return to Israel, he will work on his kibbutz.

DOCTORS, HOTELS SOMETIMES FOREGO CHARGES

In New York City the couple stayed at the Hotel Wellington, and while the hotel expense would be paid in part from the per diem allowance the couple received from the Israeli government, it would be subsidized by the couple’s personal funds. However, the Hotel Wellington refused payment from the veteran, declaring, "it would be a pleasure to have them as our guests."

Mrs. Sivan said very often hotels and doctors forego payment from Israeli veterans, or charge them only a nominal fee. She said that hospitals always take full payment, but both Jewish and non-Jewish doctors are often very willing to charge less. "One non-Jew said he didn’t want to take the full fee from the State of Israel," she said. "He said it was a privilege to treat an Israeli boy."

Local Jewish organizations also do their best to help visiting Israelis adjust to the United States, said Mrs. Sivan. Women in the U.S. working for the welfare of Israeli soldiers, and the Jewish War Veterans in America have been especially helpful, she said. Also, some Jews who own hotels in the Catskills, including the Concord and Grossingers, invite the veterans for weekends as their guests.

Israeli veterans in New York usually number about 15, with more coming in the summer. Work with wounded Israeli veterans comprises only about five percent of the Israeli Consulate’s work, yet it is a very important part. "It is a service whose needs arise in Israel," said Mrs. Sivan. "We are confronted with a fact and the Consulate meets it the best way we know how."

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