SPRINGFIELD – Building on his efforts to help Illinois veterans get the benefits and health care they have earned, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that the long awaited expansion project at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home will proceed, following the Health Facilities Planning Board approval at the end of January. The expansion project will help house 80 more veterans who need long-term health care, and will also create dozens of new jobs, as the state will hire more personnel to staff the renovated facility.
“The federal government may have turned its back on our veterans by short-changing them on the disability and health care benefits they’ve earned, but we are doing things differently in Illinois. We owe it to the men and women who bravely put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms and our liberties,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “With the expansion of the LaSalle Veterans’ Home we will be able to provide better care for more of our veterans, and we will also create more jobs and strengthen the economy of the LaSalle area.”
In order to address the long-term health care needs of older Illinois veterans, the Governor ordered $13 million in funding to be released for the construction project last September. The Health Facilities Planning Board approved the expansion of the facility January 23. IDVA expects to break ground on the new addition this spring.
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.
Since opening its door in 1990, the LaSalle Veterans’ Home has seen a steady increase of applications each year. The increased interest in the LaSalle Home is due to its location and quality of care for residents. The facility is 90 miles southwest of Chicago, where almost 600,000 veterans live.
The 62,410 square-foot additions will more than double the size of the Veterans’ Home. In addition, approximately 8,142 square feet of the building will be renovated.
The additions will include a new kitchen, dining room, activity areas, patient storage, laundry areas and offices for the staff.
“I’m proud to say that thanks to the efforts made by the Governor, we are now moving forward to provide long term health care for those Illinois veterans who can no longer take care of themselves,” Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) Director Roy L. Dolgos said. “I commend the Health Facilities Planning Board for recognizing the need for these additional living spaces for our brave men and women who put their lives on the line for this great country.”
A 2004, Chicago Sun-Times investigation found that Illinois veterans were receiving thousands of dollars a year less in disability pay from the federal government than veterans from other states. According to the report, only six percent of the state’s nearly one million veterans receive disability payments, when the national average is 10 percent.
In response, the Governor directed IDVA to hire 25 new Veterans’ Service Officers (VSO) and deploy them around the state to help veterans apply and receive for the federal compensation and benefits they’re entitled to. The VSO’s primary responsibility is assisting in applying for nearly $400 million in federal money that goes unclaimed each year by the 26.4 million veterans across the country.
Additionally, the officers will be able to help veterans connect with a variety of services, including education, vocational training, low-interest home loans and counseling. The VSO’s will also serve as a liaison between the state and the federal Veterans’ Administration.
During his State of the State Address last month, Gov. Blagojevich proposed a new state program to ensure that uninsured, low-income Illinois veterans have access to affordable, comprehensive medical coverage. Under the first phase of Veterans Care, a program jointly designed by the Gov. and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, veterans who don’t have health insurance and don’t live within driving distance of a federal VA clinic would be covered. Participants who take part in the pilot program would not be charged a monthly premium. Prescription drugs and doctors office visits would require a very minimal co-payment.
To be eligible for Veterans Care, a veteran must:
o Be between the ages of 19 and 64
o Have been uninsured for the past six months
o Live at least 50 miles from the nearest VA Medical Center
o Have a household income below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level
o Not have been dishonorably discharged from service
According to a 2004 study by Harvard Medical School, of the 26.5 million veterans living in the United States, 1.7 million of those are without insurance. More than one in three veterans under age 25 lacked health coverage, as well as one in seven veterans age 25 to 44 and one in ten veterans age 45 to 65.
Since the beginning of his administration, Gov. Blagojevich has taken other executive and legislative action to help the state’s one million veterans, including:
· Creating the Abraham Lincoln Medal of Freedom, to honor and recognize the service of members of the Illinois Army and National Guard who are mobilized in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
· Helping 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.
· Setting 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.
· Starting a pilot program at the Manteno Veterans’ Home to serve as supportive and transitional homes for vets.
· Creating an Illinois Income Tax Check-Off program to generate more revenue for veterans’ homes.
· Signing legislation that requires insurance companies in Illinois to cover Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition hurting thousands of veterans in the state.
· Signing legislation to enact the Family Military Leave Act, which provides the spouse and parents of a solider, who has been called to more than one month of active duty with 15 to 30 days of leave time.
· Signing legislation allowing the Illinois 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.
· Signing legislation to help soldiers on active duty and veterans get or complete a college education.
· Signing legislation allowing for peacetime veterans to be admitted at the state’s Veterans’ Homes.
· Signing legislation that will increase penalties for individuals who fraudulently try to obtain state benefits reserved for veterans.
· Signing legislation to extend municipal hiring preferences to all veterans who served at least one year of active military duty.
· Signing legislation to provide financial assistance to small businesses that lose employees who are called to active duty during military conflict.
· Signing legislation to give the state accurate information on how Illinois veterans are doing in terms of collecting federal benefits in comparison to veterans from other states.
· Signing legislation to give veterans returning from active duty preference in keeping the jobs they had been offered before being deployed.
· Signing legislation to increase property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and their spouses.
· Signing legislation to give national guardsmen and reservist a 180-day extension to file their property taxes.
· Signing legislation to eliminate the initial fees for the Gold Star plates, issued to parents who have lost a child in active service.
· Signing legislation to waive camping, hunting and fishing fees for Illinois residents who are members of the Armed Forces and are returning from active duty.
· Signing 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.
· Signing legislation to help Illinois soldiers and their families maintain health coverage and childcare assistance when they are deployed to fight the War on Terror.