Terrorism victims are fighting a new battle: bureaucracy

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At first they spent their days and nights on couches in the lobby of Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital, afraid to leave their loved ones for even a few hours.

Parents abandoned their jobs, children missed school. Their relatives and friends brought changes of clothing, burgers from McDonald's, roast chicken for Shabbat. Reporters descended on them, employers lent them cellular phones, social workers visited.

But while Israel has returned to business as usual, the families of the surviving victims of last month's four terror bombings are facing the long haul toward recuperation. And some of them feel they've been left to cope with a myriad of details on their own.

Among them is 21-year-old Dana Shimshon, a policewoman badly wounded in the Jerusalem bus bombing February 25.

Shimshon suffers from damage to her lungs, intestines, sight and hearing, plus severe burns that will require countless skin grafts.

As a policewoman, she must look to the Defense Ministry for help. "To this day no one has come to explain precisely what we're entitled to receive from the state," says her mother, Elana.

She knows her daughter will continue to receive her salary from the police, but no one can say for how long.

Meanwhile, the Shimshons face other practical problems. "I have three other children at home, and what I really need is help there, because the household has ceased to function," Elana Shimshon says.

She also speaks of her 15-year-old son's fear of riding on a bus. Yet if there's any support groups for the families of terror victims, she hasn't heard about them.

"On the one hand, there's been a great outpouring of caring and attention for Dana," her mother says. "But on the other, the bureaucracy isn't doing what it should. Unfortunately, this country has already had plenty of experience with terrorism. There should be rules for cases like ours."

Across the hall, 19-year-old Keren Siman-Tov, a pretty, soft-spoken soldier who suffered injuries to her lungs, stomach, legs and hearing in the same bombing, has made a remarkable recovery and is already being allowed home on "leave." Yet this has aroused uncertainties about meeting her basic needs.

"We just moved into a new apartment, and there's no installation for a telephone yet," she says. "So my mother has been given a cell phone by her employers, but that arrangement is about to end."

Siman-Tov is also concerned about getting up to the third-floor apartment, since she can't walk the stairs. As a soldier, she also works for the Defense Ministry and says no one has informed her about benefits.

"I think I need a lawyer," she says.

Originally from New York, Susan Weinstein's husband, Ira, 52, suffered severe burns and has been in respiratory intensive care since February 25th. She has reached the same conclusion as Siman-Tov.

"Ira is getting the best medical care in the world," she says. "Our friends have cared for us like family. The social worker assigned to us has been wonderful.

"But the system," she says of the National Insurance Institute (Israel's social-welfare agency) "is rigid and stingy about information."

National Insurance covers Susan Weinstein's round-trip cab fare to the hospital from her home in Ma'aleh Adumim, just east of Jerusalem. "It comes to a hefty $45 a day, and it would be cheaper for me to rent a car," she says. "That way I could also come home to give my 12-year-old lunch, and maintain some normalcy in his life, before returning to the hospital."

But the rules allow only cab fare, and the system resists exceptions. "Our social worker has gone to bat for me twice on this matter," she says, "but the answer is still no."

In Israel, "rules do sometimes take precedence over logic," says Menucha Lahav.

Her daughter, Yael, 37, will soon be coming home after recovering from damage to her lungs and recuperating after 17 plastic-surgery operations to repair burn damage she suffered in the bombing of a Jerusalem bus in 1995.

"We wanted to buy Yael a television to make her hospital stay easier, but National Insurance allows only for renting one," Menucha says. "It would have cost the government less to subsidize our purchase than pay for eight months' rental, but the rules nevertheless prevailed."

Yet the Lahavs have received outstanding attention from every quarter. The Housing Ministry, Yael Lahav's employer, not only provided her with a cellular phone but sends its welfare officer to see her every day. Other ministry employees who visit her during office hours don't have the time docked from their salaries.

"I certainly don't feel abandoned by the system," she says. "On the contrary, I'm pleased not just by the support I've received but by the spirit in which it's been given. It makes me more eager to get back to my life, return to work, continue studying, perhaps start a family of my own."