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Nearly 73000 Veterans Waiting for Changes

 During over two decades of independence, Georgia has experienced civil war plus conflicts with the Russian Federation in two regions and one short full-scale war. As a result, two regions of Georgia are occupied, and there are about 73,000 war veterans, many of them with physical wounds, amputated limbs, mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). Among them are several thousand elderly veterans of World War II who are still alive and need help.

 

 

  According to Manana Mebuke, president of the NGO Union Of Wives Of Invalids And Lost Warriors, there is no proper legislation in place to help them. Mebuke says there are no rehabilitation programs and the only work programs are for whatever jobs might be available on military bases or in the Ministry of Defense.  There are small discounts for transportation, household bills (electric, gas, water) and tax credits for those whose annual income is below 3,000 lari. Families of dead soldiers now receive 500 lari each month.

Mebuke says that it is not enough money, but that a lack of adequate legislation is a bigger problem. “The law for veterans is a blank piece of paper,” she says. “There is nothing reflected in the budget. There is no state policy that considers veterans’ problems.”

She does see some hope for the future. The Veterans Department, which has worked under various ministries since 1997, became an independent department reporting directly to the prime minister in January of 2014.

  Giorgi Peradze is the new director of the Veteran’s Department. “We are working properly only for a month,” he said.  “Even the staffing process is still being developed.”

       Peradze says the government has the political will to improve veterans’ conditions. He plans to meet with veterans and NGOs working on this topic and listen to their problems. He says he will communicate with similar organizations abroad, and will look for donors for financing. The department has an employment office that will create a database of unemployed veterans and also list suitable job vacancies.

       Peradze also plans to collaborate with psychological centers and create some programs for mental rehabilitation. Veterans already are getting health service from the State Insurance Program, which provides 100% coverage for some treatments.

According to Peradze, the allowance for families of dead soldiers will increase from 500 lari to 1,000 lari next year.

In May, on the 69th anniversary of the end of World War 2, veterans of that war will get 400 lari in one-time assistance, while families who lost breadwinners will get 200 lari.

Tamaz Inalishvili, 57, is a retired major who was a battalion chief in the 1991-93 Abkhazian conflict. He was seriously wounded and his leg was amputated. He was treated in Tbilisi for a year and there was just enough funding for him to receive a prothesis that was made in Yerevan, since Georgia was not producing artificial limbs at that time. Peradze said the government has established a division to make prothesis, but said he wasn’t sure they met proper standards.

In the mid-1990s, the Georgian parliament passed a law that strongly supported veterans, but no financial support was ever made available to put the law into practice. According to Mebuke, when the National Movement political party took control in 2003, they cancelled several provisions of that law and the veterans were left without little backing. Even their transportation benefits were reduced.

Inalishvili, the disabled veteran, points out that Georgia president Giorgi Margvelashvili told veterans during his successful 2013 campaign that their situation would be changed 180 degrees. Inalishvili’s main hope is for better legislation, because “the quality of the current (laws) is zero.”

Peradze admits there are start-up problems, but he does not rule out in the near future presenting some new legislative initiatives for discussion.

The budget – almost 3 million lari – has recently been shifted to his new department from the Ministry of Defense.

 Temur Sakhokia, 42, is a reserve officer who is a refugee from Abkhazia. He received the third degree Vakhtang Gorgasali award for bravery. During the 1991-93 Abkhazian war he lost both hands in a landmine clearing accident.

  “Veterans are entirely dependent on government,” Sakhokia said. His biggest problem is that his artificial hands are old and no longer work properly, and now he must pay part of the cost of replacing them.

“Veterans are very patient,” Sakhokia says. “We execute the orders we are given. Then we wait to see if our country pays any attention to us.”

Because of reorganization process another problem was founded about veterans’ hospital in Tbilisi, which serves to veterans for free. As last year it was financed by ministry of defense and after reorganization it moved under veterans’ department, but transferring its budget – 800 thousand laris - to the balance of department happened later, there were some problems with salaries of hospital employees. But Peradze says this problem will be solved in couple of days and salary arrears will be paid to doctors, who are working without any repayments since January.

One more difficulty is that the hospital building is damaged and it is risky to work there. Peradze says that they are trying to find other building for hospital, which will be safer for functioning.

 

Manager and employees of newly reorganized department are highly motivated, but the problems and issues they will have to solve, are even more, so they will have to work really hard to make veterans’ life easier.