"We believe veterans deserve to have their sacrifices recognized and
honored," Blagojevich and Quinn wrote, "and a big part of the
gratitude we owe them deals with making sure veterans can see a
doctor when they need it, buy prescriptions when they need them and
receive the federal benefits they're entitled to."
Medicine report found that nearly 29 percent of Gulf War
veterans have experienced medical issues since their return, as
opposed to 16 percent of servicemen and women not deployed. The
study could not identify the cause of the divergence, due to the
military's poor record keeping. The governor and lieutenant
governor's letter underscored that without adequate data, the
federal VA will have a difficult time identifying veterans who are
eligible for special disability benefits.
The health needs of returning veterans are further complicated by
the fact that all servicemen and women who served in a theater of
combat operations, including Reserve and National Guard members, are
eligible for hospital care, medical services and nursing home care
for injuries or illnesses that may be related to combat service, but
only for a period up to two years beginning on the date of discharge
or release from service.
"If the federal government won't look out for the needs of our
veterans, then the Land of Lincoln will step up," Blagojevich and
Quinn wrote. "But in light of the Institute of Medicine report, we
urge your department to commission a thorough study on the pressing
health needs returning veterans face, and to outline specific plans
to expand coverage and treatment to our veterans."
The text of the letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Secretary R. James Nicholson follows:
R. James Nicholson
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C., 20420
We are writing
today regarding the recent report by the Institute of Medicine which
highlights serious health issues facing many of our returning
veterans. While the report spends a great deal of space discussing
whether there's a Gulf War Syndrome, the bottom-line issue --
finding new approaches to improve our veterans' health -- was left
We believe veterans
deserve to have their sacrifices recognized and honored, and a big
part of the gratitude we owe them deals with making sure veterans
can see a doctor when they need it, buy prescriptions when they need
them, and receive the federal benefits they're entitled to.
The report points
out that nearly 29 percent of Gulf War veterans experience medical
issues, compared with 16 percent of servicemen and women who were
not sent to the Persian Gulf. Additionally, the report stresses that
Gulf War veterans have higher rates of depression, anxiety and
post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
But because the
military did not do a good job assessing the health of troops before
and after deployment it will be very hard to determine whether Gulf
War veterans are eligible for special disability benefits.
disabled Gulf War veterans in Illinois, and many more across the
nation, already struggle with bureaucratic hold-ups that prevent
them from obtaining the disability benefits they are entitled to and
need to live and care for their families. Illinois veterans have
been short-changed by the federal government more than veterans from
any other State.
Here in Illinois,
we recognize that thousands of veterans will be returning to our
state over the coming years in need of health care and other medical
services. Thousands more Gulf War veterans have already fallen
through the cracks of a Federal VA disability benefits provision and
healthcare system that has failed Illinois veterans.
In Illinois, we
began addressing these issues from the beginning of this
administration. By increasing the number of Veteran Service Officers
by 50%, we ensured that every veteran in the state has access to
assistance in filing his or her benefits claim.
Veterans Care to help thousands of veterans in Illinois who
currently earn too much to qualify for Veterans Administration
Healthcare, but cannot afford to purchase health insurance in the
private market. Veterans Care is another example of our state
stepping up to the plate when the federal government leaves veterans
behind. 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 one million veterans, who this year make
as little as $26,903 a year, from enrolling in VHA health care.
We have recently
expanded two of our Veterans' Homes to take care of severely
disabled veterans, and launched a pilot program that will become a
national model for dealing with homeless veterans suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.
[to top of second column]
If the federal
government won't look out for the needs of our veterans, then the
Land of Lincoln will step up. But in light of the Institute of
Medicine report, we urge your department to commission a thorough
study on the pressing health needs returning veterans face, and to
outline specific plans to expand coverage and treatment to our
They deserve no
Rod R. Blagojevich,
Under the leadership of Blagojevich and Quinn, the state of
Illinois has made it a priority to help the state's veterans,
especially at a time when they have been left behind by the federal
government. Initiatives undertaken since 2003 include the following:
Protecting veterans and their families
The governor has signed into law numerous pieces of legislation
helping veterans and members of the military, including:
Senate Bill 916, which protects military personnel and their
families against the inadvertent loss of health insurance after
a tour of duty or an honorable discharge from military service.
"Let Them Rest in Peace Act," which shields grieving
military families from protests during funerals and memorial
services of fallen soldiers. The law requires protesters to stay
at least 200 feet away as family and friends mourn soldiers who
made the ultimate sacrifice.
House Bill 4121, legislation punishing 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.
House Bill 4822, an amendment to the Illinois Human Rights
Acts, protecting Illinois veterans from discrimination in
employment and housing. 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
House Bill 4703, a law strengthening consumer protections
for active military members under the Illinois Patriot Plan. The
new law imposes penalties on companies for offenses such as
canceling life insurance policies or turning off heat while
soldiers are deployed.
Illinois Military Families Relief Fund Act, which
established a trust fund allowing the families of Guard members
and reservists to receive emergency financial grants and general
financial support, helping make up for the decline in household
income that occurs when a wage-earner is called up to service.
Since August of 2003, the fund has paid out over $3.8 million to
over 6,800 families, and 25 other states have modeled similar
programs after the one in Illinois.
Expanding care and treatment of veterans
Blagojevich and Quinn jointly designed
Veterans Care, a
landmark health insurance program aimed at providing access to
affordable, comprehensive health care to thousands of veterans
across Illinois. Veterans Care will help up to 9,000 veterans in
Illinois who currently earn too much to qualify for the health care
through the federal Veterans Health Administration but cannot afford
to purchase health insurance in the private market.
Blagojevich administration officials recently broke ground for a
building at the state's Manteno Veterans Home that will house a
landmark pilot program to help provide housing and supportive
services for 15 disabled, homeless Illinois veterans. The pilot
program will serve as a national model for how to overcome
challenges in providing permanent housing for homeless and disabled
veterans, including veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress
disorder, and will help Illinois lead the nation in preparing for
the likely increase in mental health problems among veterans
returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. [Related
Last May, top officials from Blagojevich's administration broke
ground for a new 80-bed addition to the LaSalle Veterans Home.
Blagojevich directed $13 million to build the 60,000-square-foot
unit that will allow the facility to serve dozens more of the
state's disabled veterans. The expansion will allow the home to
admit 40 residents into the Alzheimer's unit and 40 more into the
skilled care unit, as well as hire dozens of additional employees.
Looking out for families of Illinois soldiers currently on active
Thanks to the leadership of the lieutenant governor, currently
deployed service members and their families have a resource with
important and timely information about the rights and benefits
they're entitled to. Quinn's Operation Home Front website --
www.operationhomefront.org -- has received nearly 18 million
hits since it was launched in April 2003.
[News release from the governor's