SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today took legislative action to improve services to veterans across the state, by signing bills that will require insurance companies to cover Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), create a lottery game to help fund veterans’ programs, give active duty personnel and veterans more options to get a college education, allow peacetime veterans to be admitted at veterans’ homes and give family members of active duty soldiers up to one month of leave from work.
Addressing thousands of veterans at the State Fair’s Veterans’ Day, the Governor signed into law House Bill 2190 which will require insurance companies to cover treatment for PTSD; House Bill 3472 which will allow the state’s Department of Revenue to create a scratch-off lottery game that will help fund grants and programs to better serve the state’s one million veterans; House Bill 3724 and House Bill 815, which will help soldiers on active duty and veterans get or complete a college education; House Bill 4058 which will allow for peacetime veterans to be admitted at state veterans’ homes; and Senate Bill 1627, the Family Military Leave Act, which will allow spouses and parents of soldiers called to active duty to have 15 to 30 days of leave time.
The Governor also issued an executive order, directing the Illinois Department of Military Affairs to establish the Abraham Lincoln Medal of Freedom, to honor and recognize the service of members of the Illinois Army and Air National Guard who are mobilized in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a terrible condition that hurts thousands of veterans in Illinois. It’s a disorder that makes it hard for them to work, take care of their families or function fully in society. Our veterans put their lives on the line defending this country. It’s our duty to help them get the treatment they need,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “I’m also proud to sign legislation that will help veterans and soldiers get a college education, have increased access to Veterans’ Homes, spend more time with their loved ones before going into active duty, and have better funded state programs.”
The Veterans’ Day at the State Fair included a “Mini Supermarket of Veterans’ Benefits,” where the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs deployed dozens of Veteran Service Officers to provide step-by-step assistance to those vets who need help filling the VA benefit claims. Many other states and federal agencies were on-hand to provide information about job and education opportunities. In addition, the Peoria VA Outpatient Clinic provided health care information.
HB 2190, which is an initiative of Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, expands the list of mental illnesses that insurance companies must cover to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The new law, which takes effect immediately, applies to those providers that are required to cover treatment services for serious mental illnesses.
PTSD is a chronic mental health problem that results from experiencing or witnessing life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults. This condition once referred to as “shell shock” was brought into the limelight by war veterans returning from Vietnam.
People who suffer from PTSD often relive their experiences through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged. These symptoms can be serious enough and long lasting enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life. PTSD frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, memory and cognition problems and other physical and mental health problems. The disorder is also associated with severe impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life and renders them unable to work.
National studies show that nearly 30 percent of men and women who have been in a war experience PTSD. According to the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, nearly 600 veterans currently participate in their PTSD programs.
A VA inspector general investigation released last May showed that only 2.8 percent of Illinois’ veterans are rated 100 percent disabled for PTSD and Illinois is last in the nation for disability pay for PTSD and other mental disabilities.
Currently, the national estimated annual cost of treatment for veterans with PTSD is $250 million. Approximately 87,000 veterans receive this treatment, according to the Veterans Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Over the past nine years, more than 1,600 veterans have been treated for PTSD at the Danville VA and its surrounding community clinics.
“Many of those on the frontlines in the Global War on Terrorism have suffered invisible – as well as visible – scars. It’s our duty to help those afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder upon their return home to get the treatment and health services they need and deserve,” said Lt. Gov. Quinn.
“It’s only right that insurance companies be required to cover such a disease - a disease that is becoming an epidemic with soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan,” explained Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), chief sponsor of the legislation in the Illinois House.
HB 2190 becomes effective immediately.
HB 3472, which becomes effective immediately, allows the Illinois Department of Revenue to create a new instant scratch off lottery game. The proceeds, which will be deposited into the newly created Illinois Veterans’ Assistance Fund, will be used by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs to make grants, fund additional services and conduct research projects relating to veterans’ issues.
“The federal government has dragged its feet in addressing the health care needs of our veterans, so states must step up. The Illinois Veterans’ Health Initiative is a voluntary way for the people of Illinois to help address these problems while expressing their appreciation to those who have served,” said Lt. Gov. Quinn whose office spearheaded the initiative.
“Just to make it crystal clear, the money raised through this special lottery game will only supplement the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget, not replace it,” explained Rep. Mike Boland (D-East Moline), who sponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives.
The new lottery tickets will go on sale beginning January 1, 2006.
HB 3724, which goes into effect immediately, will allow students who are called to active duty to finish their higher education at a later date at no additional charge unless credit has been received or a refund was given by the institution.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Roger Jenisch (R-Bloomingdale) and Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), also gives these students priority when they reenroll in college and if they withdraw from a college course because of being called to duty, their transcripts must reflect that their withdrawal was due to military service.
HB 815 will allow Illinois veterans enrolling in college to receive an increase in their education benefits. The legislation provides for a complete rewrite of the laws governing the long-standing Illinois Veteran Grant program, which cover college tuition and fees. Rather than covering a few specific fees outlined in the law, the grants will now cover tuition and all mandatory fees, some of which veterans previously had to pay on their own.
The legislation, sponsored by two veterans, Senator William Haine (D-Alton) and Representative Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville), received unanimous support in the Illinois General Assembly. HB 815 becomes effective immediately.
“Illinois has a long history of providing one of the most generous education benefit programs for veterans in the nation. Investing in our veterans’ futures through education is an ideal way to recognize and applaud these worthy individuals’ commitments and sacrifices,” said Rep. Watson.
Individuals are eligible for the Illinois Veteran Grant if they enter active duty as an Illinois resident, serve at least one year of active duty or less than a year if the service is in a foreign country during a time of hostilities, and have an honorable service record. Those who have left service must return to Illinois within six months to maintain eligibility. Beneficiaries of the Illinois Veteran Grant are not required to pay tuition or mandatory fees while attending a state university or community college for the equivalent of four years of full-time enrollment, including summer terms.
Members of the Illinois National Guard are eligible for the Illinois Veteran Grant, if they meet the eligibility criteria. They can also receive the Illinois National Guard Grant, which covers tuition and some fees for eligible members of the Illinois National Guard.
For more information about the Illinois Veteran Grant and the Illinois National Guard Grant, individuals should contact the Illinois Student Assistance Commission toll-free at 800-899-ISAC (4722). In addition to these military service grants, the agency provides fourteen other scholarship and grant programs, as well as educational loans for students and parents. Applications for the programs are online at the comprehensive college planning Web site, CollegeZone.com. College Zone counselors and materials are available in Spanish.
HB 4058, sponsored by Rep. Linda M. Dugan (D-Kankakee) and Sen. Halvorson, allows peacetime veterans to be admitted to an Illinois Veterans’ Home. Although the spouse of a wartime veteran can be admitted, current law only allows those who fought during a war to reside in one of the state’s homes, which are located in Anna, LaSalle, Manteno and Quincy.
“We ask these men and women to defend our country and our state every day in conflicts around the world,” said Rep. Dugan. “As these conflicts continue, more and more members of our armed forces are being injured in the line of duty. As a state, we must have medical care available to these veterans in the years to come. This bill helps expand our ability to provide quality care for those deserving the very best.”
HB 4058 becomes effective immediately.
SB 1627, the Family Military Leave Act, is also an initiative of Lt. Gov. Quinn, and was sponsored by Sen. Carol Ronen (D-Chicago) and Rep. Jay C. Hoffman (D-Collinsville). The bill, which becomes effective immediately, provides the spouse and parents of a soldier, who has been called to more than one month of active duty with 15 to 30 days of leave time.
“My office heard from family members of numerous citizen soldiers called to active duty who had quit their jobs or were fired simply because they wanted to spend time with their loved ones before shipping out,” Lt. Gov. Quinn said. “The Illinois Military Family Leave Act is fair to employers and shows compassion to military families.”
The amount of time a person can take depends on the size of the employer. Employers with 15-50 employees must provide up to 15 days and employers with more than 50 workers must provide up to 30 days off. Before using the Family Military Leave Act, an employee must first exhaust all accrued vacation, personal and compensatory time, and give advance notice as practicable.
“When your spouse or your child is called to active duty, you want to be there with them and spend as much time with them as possible. It’s a tough period for families, and we should be able to afford those families as much time as possible to be together,” said Rep. Hoffman.
Since 2003, Governor Blagojevich has focused state efforts on assisting Illinois veterans and those soldiers who are currently on active duty. Through executive or legislative action the Governor has:
· Signed legislation that will increase penalties for individuals who fraudulently try to obtain state benefits reserved for veterans.
· Signed legislation that will extend municipal hiring preferences to all veterans who served at least one year of active military duty.
· Signed legislation that will provide financial assistance to small businesses that lose employees who are called to active duty during military conflict.
· Signed legislation that will give the state accurate information on how Illinois veterans are doing in terms of collecting federal benefits in comparison to veterans from other states.
· Signed legislation that will give veterans returning from active duty preference in keeping the jobs they had been offered before being deployed.
· Directed the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs to hire 25 additional veteran service officers, which will be deployed across the state to help local veterans apply for federal benefits.
· Helped thousands of veterans get federal and state benefits at the July 9 Supermarket of Veterans’ Benefits in Chicago, the largest veterans’ fair in the state’s history.
· Signed legislation to increase property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and their spouses.
· Signed legislation to give national guardsmen and reservist a 180-day extension to file their property taxes.
· Signed legislation to eliminate the initial fees for the Gold Star plates, issued to parents who have lost a child in active service.
· Signed legislation to waive camping, hunting and fishing fees for Illinois residents who are members of the Armed Forces and are returning from active duty.
· Signed legislation to increase the monetary death benefit given by the IDVA to families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, making Illinois the first state in the nation to offer soldiers additional monetary benefits than those provided by the federal government.
· Signed legislation that will help Illinois soldiers and their families maintain health coverage and childcare assistance when they are deployed to fight the War on Terror.
· Directed IDVA to set up a not-for-profit organization known as the Illinois Veterans Foundation that will partner with corporations, other foundations and private citizens to assist the state in reaching out to and helping our veterans.
· Started a pilot program at the Manteno Veterans’ Home to serve as supportive and transitional homes for vets.
· Created an Illinois Income Tax Check-Off program to generate more revenue for veterans’ homes.