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Haaretz: 50% increase in exemptions from army for mental health

Israeli forces in Ramallah, West Bank on 27 November 2020 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli forces in Ramallah, West Bank on 27 November 2020 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli Defence Forces' Manpower Directorate has announced that 11.9 per cent of draft-age Israeli men who were subject to conscription have received mental health exemptions, Israeli newspaper Haaretz has revealed.

This rate was mentioned in an article written by Israeli writer Amos Harel, who noted that this rate recorded a 50 per cent increase during the last two years.

Harel reported that percentage of exemptions due to physical health problems has remained stable, noting that last year recorded 2.2 per cent of male draftees, compared to 1.9 per cent three years ago.

Alongside the steady rise in the number of Haredi yeshiva students who are exempt from service to continue full-time yeshiva study – 15.9 per cent of all male draftees last year – Harel reiterated: "The rise in mental health exemptions has become a major problem the army must address."

The Israeli army attributes the rise mainly: "In the number of young men suffering from depression or anxiety. But another factor appears to be a decline in the value of military service in the eyes of large segments of Israeli society over the past two decades."

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Harel stated: "The stigma that a mental health exemption once carried has largely evaporated, and today, recipients rarely have trouble integrating into either society or the job market."

Therefore, he explained that the army: "Suspects that a large proportion of mental health exemptions are a form of draft-dodging rather than being psychiatrically justified."

Adding to this, Harel reported: "Initial data on the next round of draftees indicates that the rate of mental health exemptions might rise by another percentage point. The problem could even accelerate due to the economic, social and emotional problems caused by the coronavirus crisis."

Previously, the army has complained about an "industry" of psychiatrists who were quick to approve mental health exemptions, according to Harel.

In an attempt to reduce the number of exemptions, Harel indicated: "The IDF is considering various ideas for reducing the rate of mental health exemptions. Other than allowing a more thorough scrutiny of applications."

In Harel's view: "In many cases, the exemption is given on the grounds that the draftee isn't psychologically fit to carry weapons or sleep on base."

He added: "The army is considering redefining several hundred rear-echelon jobs as not requiring soldiers to carry weapons or stay on base overnight," noting that this measure would reduce the number of exemptions.

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