SPRINGFIELD – Celebrating “Veterans’ Day” at the Illinois State Fair, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced that Illinois veterans can begin pre-registering for the state’s new landmark veterans’ health insurance program that will provide access to affordable, comprehensive health care to thousands of veterans across Illinois, starting September 1, 2006. Veterans Care will help up to 9,000 veterans in Illinois who currently earn too much to qualify for Veterans Administration Healthcare (VHA) but cannot afford to purchase health insurance in the private market.
“There are thousands of veterans in Illinois who are living without health insurance because they can’t afford it, and because they earn too much to meet the federal VA’s threshold. That’s unacceptable. After putting their lives at risk for our country, the least we can do is make sure our veterans can see a doctor when they need to and get the medicine that will keep them healthy. If the federal government won’t look out for the needs of our veterans, then the state will step up,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Veterans Care will provide thousands of our veterans with the healthcare they need, and I’m proud that we can start pre-registering them today at the Illinois State Fair.”
Under the first phase of Veterans Care, jointly designed by Gov. Blagojevich and Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, veterans who don’t have health insurance will be covered. Participants who take part in the pilot program will be charged a $40 monthly premium. Prescription drugs and doctors office visits will require a very minimal co-payment, ranging from $6 to $15.
“When our service members return to the home front, they deserve comprehensive and affordable medical care. I’m proud that the State of Illinois has stepped forward with Veterans Care to provide decent health care coverage to veterans who need it,” said Lt. Gov. Quinn.
Veterans Care will be operated by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA). The Departments estimate that approximately 9,000 veterans will qualify for this new program.
Veterans can sign up for Veterans Care
today at the Lincoln Stage on the Fairgrounds in Springfield. During the duration of the Fair, IDVA representatives will be available in the air-conditioned Illinois Building from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to assist veterans. The state’s 50 veteran service offices will also serve as a sign-up location for Veterans Care
, which will begin September 1, 2006. For more information, visit the Veterans Care website at illinoisveteranscare.com
or call 1-877-4VETSRX.
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 the War on Terror in 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.
Last year, the VA acknowledged a $2.7 billion shortfall in funding for veterans health care, a shortcoming made more critical as more than 144,000 veterans returning from the Middle East have required medical treatment.
Last December, four major veterans organizations – AMVETS, 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. They also warned that for the fourth year in a row, the President’s budget proposal increased health care costs for one 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 VHA 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 that changes 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.
“I think I speak on behalf of all Illinois veterans when I say ‘thank you’ to Governor Blagojevich for making us a priority during the past three and a half years. The creation of Veterans Care and knowing they will be able to see a doctor will alleviate some of the stress when Illinois veterans return home,” said IDVA Director Roy L. Dolgos, who also served in the Vietnam War.
To be eligible for Veterans Care, a veteran must meet the following criteria:
- Be between the ages of 19 and 64;
- Have been uninsured for the past six months;
- Be ineligible for VHA and other healthcare programs like FamilyCare;
- Have a household income up to 25% of the Federal Poverty Level above the VHA threshold at the beginning of the program, and if funds permit after 6 months of operation up to 50% 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 prescriptions.
Since 2003, Gov. 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:
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.
- The “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 from family and friends as they mourn soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
- 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.
- 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 a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States, a reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Illinois Army National Guard and the Illinois Air National Guard.
- 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.
- The 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 the decline in household income that occurs when a wage-earner is called up to service. Since August of 2003, the Fund ha paid out over $3.8 million to over 6,800 families, and 25 other states have molded similar programs after Illinois.
EXPANDING CARE AND TREATMENT OF VETERANS
Blagojevich Administrations officials recently broke ground on a building that will house a landmark pilot program to help provide housing and supportive services for 15 disabled, homeless Illinois veterans at the state’s Veterans’ Home in Manteno. 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 (PTSD), and will help Illinois lead the nation in preparing for the likely increase in mental health problems among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last May, top officials from Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s administration broke ground on a new 80-bed addition to the LaSalle Veterans’ Home. Gov. 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 DUTY.
Thanks to the leadership of Lt. Gov. Quinn, currently deployed service members and their families have a resource with important and timely information about the rights and benefits they’re entitled to. The Lt. Governor’s “Operation Home Front” website – www.OperationHomeFront.org
– has received nearly 18 million hits since it was launched in April, 2003.