"There are thousands of veterans in Illinois who are living without
health insurance because they can't afford it," Blagojevich said.
"How can you ask these men and women to risk their lives defending
our freedom, only to turn your backs on them when they come home?
That's exactly what the federal government has done. They may think
that's an acceptable way to treat our veterans. But we don't. That's
why we created the Veterans Care program, and it's why we're going
to keep expanding it every year."
The federal government has been
consistently cutting off veterans' health care since 2003, despite a
growing need for health services as thousands of veterans return
from Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2003, the Bush administration cut off
health care for thousands of veterans making as little as $25,000 a
year. Over the past three years, this has prevented 1 million
veterans who make as little as $26,903 a year from enrolling in VA
Last year, the VA acknowledged a $2.7 billion shortfall in
funding for veterans' health care, a shortcoming made the more
dramatic as more than 144,000 veterans returning from the Middle
East have required medical treatment. Last December, four major
organizations -- AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans, the
Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of
the United States -- warned that as a result of the Bush
administration proposals, veterans using the VA health care system
are facing substantially higher co-payments and waiting times and
are at risk for higher fees. The groups also warned that for the
fourth year in a row, the president's budget proposes increased
health care costs for 1 million veterans by imposing new fees at a
cost of more than $2.6 billion over five years and driving at least
200,000 additional veterans out of the system.
In all, there are approximately 70,000 uninsured veterans in
Illinois. The federal Veterans Health Administration covers those
veterans who have service-related disabilities or who have recently
returned from active duty, and then, space permitting, covers other
veterans who do not have health insurance and have an income below a
threshold set by the Veterans Health Administration each year.
Veterans who have no access to care and who regularly fall through
the cracks are those earning above the VHA threshold, which varies
by county, based on the local standard of living.
The new Veterans Care program will be operated by the Department
of Healthcare and Family Services in collaboration with the Illinois
Department of Veterans' Affairs. The departments estimate that
approximately 9,000 veterans will qualify for the program. Veterans
Care will provide comprehensive health care to them at affordable
rates, with average monthly premiums of $40.
Senate Bill 627 becomes effective immediately.
"In the Land of Lincoln, no veteran should go without decent
health care coverage," Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. "Veterans Care will
assist our veterans in obtaining the comprehensive, affordable
health care they deserve."
To be eligible for Veterans Care, a veteran must meet the
Be between the ages
of 19 and 64.
Have been uninsured
for the past six months.
Be ineligible for VHA
and other health care programs like FamilyCare.
Have a household
income up to 25 percent of the federal poverty level above the
VHA threshold at the beginning of the program and, if funds
permit after six months of operation, up to 50 percent of the
federal poverty level above the VHA threshold.
Not have been
dishonorably discharged from service.
Be willing to pay a
monthly premium of $40, plus co-payments for doctor visits and
"This legislation backs up many of the promises the federal
government couldn't keep," said Sen. Debbie DeFrancesco Halvorson,
D-Crete, the Senate sponsor of the legislation. "Our veterans who
have fallen through the cracks will now get the health care they
deserve, and I'm proud that our state officials, including Governor
Blagojevich, understand the medical needs of so many Illinoisans."
"I would like to thank Governor Blagojevich and Lieutenant
Governor Pat Quinn for their work and concerns of behalf of the
veterans in the state of Illinois," said Rep. Frank Mautino,
D-Spring Valley, who sponsored the legislation in the House of
Representatives. "By signing this legislation, veterans that have
fallen through the cracks of the federal government will now have
access to quality health care."
Since 2003, Blagojevich has taken several measures and launched a
number of initiatives to help the state's veterans, especially at a
time when they have been left behind by the federal government.
Initiatives undertaken in 2006 include the following:
Protecting veterans and their families
This year, the governor signed into law the following
Senate Bill 1144, which shields grieving military families
from protests during funerals and memorial services of fallen
soldiers. The "Let Them Rest in Peace Act" requires protesters
to stay at least 200 feet away from family and friends as they
mourn soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
House Bill 4121, which punishes individuals who falsely
claim to be decorated war heroes. The new law creates criminal
charges and imposes penalties on individuals falsely
representing themselves as recipients of various military
honors, including the Purple Heart, the Congressional Medal of
Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air
Force Cross, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.
[to top of second column]
House Bill 4822, which protects Illinois veterans from
discrimination in employment and housing by changing the
definition of military status in the state's Human Rights Act.
Under the new law, military status now includes veterans of the
armed forces of the United States, reserve components of the
armed forces of the United States, the Illinois Army National
Guard and the Illinois Air National Guard.
House Bill 4703, which strengthens consumer protections for
active military members under the Illinois Patriot Plan. The new
law imposes hefty financial penalties on companies for offenses
such as canceling life insurance policies or turning off heat
while soldiers are deployed.
The governor also
called on Secretary James Nicholson of the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs to take immediate steps to protect veterans
from identity theft and financial devastation in the wake of
stolen data belonging to millions of veterans nationwide.
Expanding care and treatment of veterans
Last week, top officials from the governor's administration broke
ground on a new 80-bed addition to the LaSalle Veterans Home.
Because of the dire need of long-term health care for older veterans
living in Illinois, Blagojevich ordered the release of $13 million
last September for construction of the 60,000-square-foot unit that
will serve dozens more of the state's disabled veterans. The 80-bed
expansion will allow the home to admit 40 residents into the
Alzheimer's unit and 40 into the skilled care unit as well as hire
60 to 65 additional employees. It will also include five enclosed
courtyard areas to provide safe, secure outdoor recreation space for
the residents. The new addition should be complete by the end of
The project is being overseen by the Illinois Capital Development
Board, which manages all state construction projects.
The LaSalle Veterans Home, which opened in December 1990, is
located in a residential area on the northeast side of LaSalle in
LaSalle County, on a campus of slightly more than 4 acres. The home
provides intermediate and skilled nursing services for veterans and
currently has a total capacity of 120 beds, including 18
special-needs beds for veterans suffering from Alzheimer's disease
or related dementias.
Helping veterans get the benefits they are entitled to
Last year, following through on a promise made during his 2005
State of the State address, the governor hired 25 new veteran
service officers and deployed them across the state to significantly
improve the state's outreach to 1 million Illinois veterans and
their families. Thanks to the increase in staffing, the VSOs have
helped more than 5,000 additional veterans apply for and receive
federal compensation and other benefits during the first quarter of
2006, compared with the same time period in 2005.
VSOs help veterans cut through the red tape and bureaucracy
associated with applying for and receiving compensation and other
benefits from the federal Veterans Health Administration. Their
primary job responsibility is assisting Illinois veterans applying
for the nearly $400 million in federal money that is available but
unclaimed every year by the 26.5 million veterans across the
On May 20, the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs hosted a
"Supermarket of Veterans Benefits," where hundreds of central
Illinois veterans were able to get information about their federal
benefits and services, as well as connect with educational
opportunities and job openings. This followed similar events last
year in Chicago, Springfield and Marion.
In addition to providing information, the state's 50
service offices will also serve as sign-up locations for
Expanding funding of state programs and services for veterans
Earlier this month, the governor announced that just three months
after going on sale, the state's first lottery ticket designed to
benefit Illinois veterans and their families has generated more than
$1 million for veterans. Veterans Cash is the first instant ticket
in Illinois Lottery history providing a portion of the proceeds to
help fund state programs and services for veterans.
Proceeds from the sale of this ticket will be deposited into the
Illinois Veterans Assistance Fund, an interest-bearing account in
the Illinois Treasury. The General Assembly will appropriate this
money solely to the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, which
will award grants, fund additional services or conduct research
relating to veterans' post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness,
health insurance costs and disability benefits.
Blagojevich and the Illinois Lottery launched the Veterans Cash
instant lottery ticket on Feb. 10. Since then, the scratch-off
ticket has raised $1,060,086 for new state programs and services
that will help Illinois veterans and their families. Veterans Cash
is currently available at all Illinois Lottery retail locations.
Each ticket costs $2 and has a top prize of $20,000.
[News release from the governor's