“The state won’t be able to recompense the impact the war had on my life. I got married very late, I don’t have children. I wanted to be a lawyer and I couldn’t do this,” said Berishvili. She was 21, a teacher of Georgian language and literature, when she was drafted into World War II.
She received a medal for participating in the heroic defense of the Caucasian front and was awarded the designation Knight of the Honor. Now she lives alone; her husband, also a World War II veteran, died 28 years ago.
Her only income is her retirement and veteran’s benefit, a total of 171 lari (about USD 100). This includes money she receives as a veteran’s widow, which makes her benefit a bit more then most veterans receive.
Under the law adopted December 29, 2006, the state began giving the veterans all benefits in cash.
Before the new law, veterans living in Tbilisi and in the regions received money from the state budget to cover electricity expenses. In addition, Tbilisi veterans also received from city hall free water, telephone, garbage disposal and a certain amount of gas. They also had free access to city buses and the subway. In the regions, local budgets were not able to afford the same free services that Tbilisi provided for veterans.
Under the new law, all veterans’ benefits are provided from the state budget in cash, and veterans in Tbilisi and the regions receive equal benefits. So beneficiaries in Tbilisi no longer receive free gas, water or other services. Instead, they get money from the state - but it is less than the value of what they once received in services.
Mamuka Katsarava, the interim head of Tbilisi municipal Service of Social Service and Culture, said that, in the past, allowances were being given to citizens in a disorderly way and that it was not possible to control the spending. Previously, city hall transferred money to companies, which then applied the money to partly or completely subsidize veterans’ costs for utilities and services.
But he said it was not clear if these citizens truly needed free rides on municipal transport or benefits for gas utilities, as some don’t have gas in their homes or don’t use public transport.
“Now, there won’t be other companies between the beneficiary and the state and people can spend money as they want,” said Katzarava.
The Veterans’ State Department recognizes as veterans those who served in World War II, in operations of foreign countries’ territories, in operations of Georgian territorial integrity or who have served in military forces. Now there are 81,970 registered veterans and deceased veterans’ family members in Georgia, who are beneficiaries of the state. Of those, 23,537 live in Tbilisi.
According to veteran’s classifications, Ketevan Berishvili belongs to the first category, which includes veterans more than 70 years old and disabled. A second category includes those who served in the military, veterans less then 70 years old, and deceased veterans’ family members, who are retired, underage or disabled.
Before the new law was adopted, the state spent 73.28 lari (USD 43) monthly to cover all benefits for veterans of the first category in Tbilisi, and 50.40 lari (USD 29.65) for second category veterans.
Under the new law, the state spends the same in the capital city and in the regions: for the first category veterans, 44 lari (USD 25.88) monthly and for the second category, 22 lari (USD 12.94).
To buy exactly the same amount of services, Ketevan Berishvili, with her 44 lari, now must pay 13.63 lari for gas, 28 lari for electricity, 2.40 lari for water, 1.20 lari for garbage and 4 lari for telephone, for a total of 49.28 lari (USD 29). That does not include the monthly price of public transportation, for which the state previously spent 24 lari (USD 14). Now she has to pay 20 tetri for every ticket.
According to Katsarava, although the state spends less money in Tbilisi than before, the total sum of social benefits increased from 16 million lari to 26 million lari. He said the reason for the reduction of the state’s spending on veterans in Tbilisi is the result of the effort to equalize the benefits for veterans in the capital city and the regions. “There were people from other regions in this war, not only from Tbilisi. It is the principle of fairness,” said Katsarava.
But others believe that the new spending policies do not recognize the higher costs veterans in Tbilisi face.
Public Defender Sozar Subari said veterans from regions do not need to travel with buses in the villages, while for citizen of bigger cities, such as Tbilisi, it’s impossible to move from one part of the city to another without using public transportation.
He says that when identifying the amount of benefits, it is necessary to acknowledge different needs of residents from the region and city.
Subari, who is also called ombudsman, made a written evaluation of the changes in veterans’ benefits. He said that the new law does not take into account the growing costs of gas, electricity and water.
But Katsarava says that many people from these categories do not need help; some of them don’t use the public transportation at all. They have good financial resources, he says.
The Public Defender, though, said that veterans are given benefits by government not because of they are needy, but because they deserved it and the state is grateful for their service.
Nikoloz Makhashvili, the leader of the Center of Veterans’ Rights Defence, an NGO, says that a government that makes one of its priorities defense and military, which spends so much money for the armed forces, shouldn’t pass a law that diminishes the social status of veterans and their families. This is also a mistake from the military view, he said, because it is the wrong message to send to those soldiers who are ready to devote their life to homeland.