Therapists warn Israeli soldiers with PTSD returning to duty too soon, raising risks

The issue took on more urgency with the suicide of Sgt. Maj. (res.) Eliran Mizrahi on June 11.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Israeli army reservists diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Gaza are being called up for more duty without completing their therapy, raising risks for the soldiers and their comrades, researchers warned on Wednesday.

Therapists at the National Center for Post Trauma & Resilience at Tel Aviv University stressed that some patients, driven by a deep sense of duty to their country, unit, and comrades, are abandoning their therapy mid-course to return to reserve duty. This, they caution, not only jeopardizes the mental health of the reservists but also potentially endangers their fellow soldiers.

“These individuals, still in the throes of PTSD, are not fully fit for active service and might make critical errors on the battlefield,” the clinic warned.

PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. People with PTSD may avoid situations or things that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have negative changes in beliefs and feelings.

The condition is typically managed with therapy and medication.

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“Since the Oct. 7 attack, the numbers of PTSD sufferers in need of therapy have grown every month. Often reservists go back home, presumably to their ‘normal lives,’ and it takes them some time to realize that they can’t function normally at work or at home,” the clinic’s head, Prof. Yair Ben-Haim explained.

“Moreover, these people face substantial danger due to a troubling phenomenon we noted recently — many of our patients are called up again before completing therapy for PTSD from their first round of fighting. Being deeply committed to their country, unit, and comrades, some leave everything behind and go back to serve. It must be understood that this can worsen their own symptoms, and there is also real concern about their ability to function and make decisions as commanders or squad members on the battlefield,” Ben-Haim stressed.

He added that the idea of soldiers returning to battle before completing therapy for PTSD “and risking exposure to more trauma has been rarely discussed in the professional literature. Today this is happening in two places, Israel and Ukraine, as a result of protracted wars.”

Since October 7, the clinic has been flooded with an average of 40 new requests for treatment ever week.

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Ben-Haim called on lawmakers to exempt individuals in therapy from military service until they are deemed psychologically fit.

“Israel’s mental healthcare system must look beyond the immediate crisis and plan for the next two decades at least,” Prof. Bar-Haim said. “We need solutions that will accelerate training processes for therapists and establish strong regional trauma clinics. Only by doing so can we ensure the long-term mental health and resilience of our society,” he said.

The issue took on more urgency with the suicide of Sgt. Maj. (res.) Eliran Mizrahi on June 11.

Mizrahi helped remove bodies from the Nova music festival massacre and then served in Gaza as a combat engineer until being injured in April. He was diagnosed with PTSD and recognized by the Israel Defense Forces as a disabled veteran. But on June 7, he received orders to report for duty in Rafah and killed himself. The IDF initially refused to give Mizrahi a military funeral, arguing that Mizrahi was not on active duty when he died. But the IDF relented in the face of the family’s campaign.

At least 1,200 people were killed, and 252 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Of the 116 remaining hostages, more than 30 are believed dead.