The Croatian Veterans’ Affairs Ministry and local authorities in the towns of Daruvar, Petrinja, Sinj and Sibenik signed agreements on Monday to set up new centres for people who fought in the 1991-95 war.
The centres in the four towns will provide care and assistance, basic physical rehabilitation and sporting, recreational and educational activities for Croatian veterans.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Tomo Medved said that, with European funds, the ministry will improve the system of care for veterans and victims of what is known as the Homeland War in Croatia.
According to Croatian broadcaster Nova TV, almost 330 million kunas (around 44.5 million euros) of European Union funds is being spent on the project. The facilities are due to open in a year and a half.
“We will assume that at least 500 war veterans could be accommodated in our centres at one point,” Medved told media.
Experts have said that many Croatian war veterans still need therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to a study from 2015, ‘Suicide of Croatian Veterans in Zagreb and Croatia’, by conflict psychology expert Zoran Komar, a total of 2,734 veterans committed suicide from the beginning of the war to the end of 2014.
According to government data from 2012, there are some 500,000 former fighters from the 1991-95 war. There is no information on how many have been diagnosed with PTSD.
Medved was criticised this month because nearly a quarter of a century after the end of the war, it emerged that Croatia has granted 1,687 more people war veteran status, which critics said would incur new costs for the state.
Medved said however that this did not necessarily mean that all of them will get a veteran’s pension and insisted that the ministry had planned for the development in advance and secured the finances to fund it.
The Croatian government adopted a new War Veterans Law in December 2017, which said that people who did not already have veteran status could apply for it, even though the original deadline for applying was in 2009.
The law gave Croatian veterans and the children of killed or unemployed veterans an advantage over other candidates when applying for jobs in the public sector, which attracted criticism domestically.
Croatian veterans also have a minimum guaranteed pension which is higher than the pension of other retired citizens.
Croatian veterans’ organisations have political influence and have often sought to use it.
They were at the forefront of protests in 2013 against the introduction of bilingual Croatian and Serbian signs in Latin and Cyrillic script on official buildings in the wartime flashpoint town of Vukovar, and staged a high-profile 18-month long sit-in demanding the resignation of the veterans’ minister, which ended in April 2016.