DU QUOIN, Illinois – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today named Robby J. Hookham, of Murphysboro, as the State of Illinois’ August “Veteran of the Month” for his longtime commitment and dedication to the youth community.
“Not only do veterans bravely serve our country in defense of our freedom and liberties. Some of them, like Robby Hookham, keep working on behalf of others and stepping up to the plate when help is needed,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “I commend and thank Mr. Hookham for all of his hard work.”
The Governor’s “Veteran of the Month” award is a distinction that is given monthly to military veterans who excel as community activists and work on behalf of other veterans. On behalf of the Governor, Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) Director Roy L. Dolgos and Assistant Director Rochelle Crump presented Hookham with the award during a special ceremony during “Veterans’ Day” at the DuQuoin State Fair.
“This is an award that Governor Blagojevich and I implemented to say ‘thank you’ to the brave men and women who have served their country above and beyond the call of duty and continue to serve their community,” Director Dolgos explained.
Robby Hookham served in the United States Marine Corps for 20 years, first as an electrician/mechanic on utility equipment and later as a utilities chief. His military service took him to many different countries, including Norway and Ethiopia.
In 2002-2004, Hookham organized the local Toys for Tots program to help needy children in the community. He and his fellow members of the Marine Corps League Shawnee Detachment #812 continue to help with the toy drive year after year.
Hookham has also volunteered his time to serve as a co-leader for Brownie and Junior Girl Scout Troops, coach for Springfield Co-ed Junior Softball League, equipment manager for Camp LeJeune Girl Scout Services Unit and squad advisor for Young Marines Program. He also visits local elementary and junior high schools to teach flag etiquette to students.
“Mr. Hookham is a fine example of what this award embodies. Today we are here to show him just how much he means to the community and thank him for all that he does, especially when it comes to kids,” added Assistant Director Crump.
He is a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars where he served as the Adjutant from 1987 to 1990 and as the Color Guard Captain from 1988 to 1990. Hookham also belongs to AMVETS and serves as the Chaplain and Color Detail Coordinator for the Marine Corps League Shawnee Detachment #812.
An active member of the First Christian Church of Murphysboro, Hookham is a youth advocate, chairman of the transportation committee and sound board operator.
Hookham and his wife Cindy have been married for more than 20 years and have three daughters, Emily, Erika and Erin.
The “Veteran of the Month” award highlights the work of community activists who also happen to be military veterans. Each month, on behalf of Governor Blagojevich, Director Dolgos will recognize a different person or group that contributes to the betterment of communities across the state of Illinois. To nominate a “Veteran of the Month,” please visit the IDVA’s website at www.state.il.us/agency/dva or call (217) 524-0629 to obtain a list of guidelines and a nomination form.
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
This year, the Governor signed into law the following legislation:
• Senate Bill 627, which creates the landmark Veterans Care health insurance initiative, will provide access to affordable, comprehensive health care to thousands of veterans across Illinois. The program will help up to 9,000 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 can now pre-register for Veterans Care by visiting their nearest veteran service office. A complete list of offices can be found at www.state.il.us/agency/dva.
• 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.
• 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 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.
• 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.
EXPANDING CARE AND TREATMENT OF VETERANS
Members of the Blagojevich recently broke ground on a building that will house a new pilot program that will 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 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.
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 one million Illinois veterans and their families. Thanks to the increase in staffing, the VSOs have helped more than 5,000 additional veterans apply and receive federal compensation and other benefits during the first quarter of 2006, compared to the same time period in 2005.
VSOs help veterans cut through the red tape and bureaucracy associated with applying and receiving compensation and other benefits from the federal government. 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 country.
In addition to providing information, the state’s 50 Veteran Service Offices will also serve as a sign-up location for Veterans Care.
EXPANDING FUNDING OF STATE PROGRAMS AND SERVICES FOR VETERANS
The Governor recently announced that just four 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 where a portion of the proceeds will help fund state programs and services for veterans.
Proceeds from the sale of this ticket will be deposited into an interest bearing account in the State Treasury called the “Illinois Veterans Assistance Fund.” The Illinois General Assembly will appropriate this money solely to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) who will award grants, fund additional services or conduct research relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, homelessness, health insurance costs, and disability benefits.
Gov. Blagojevich and the Illinois Lottery launched the Veterans Cash instant lottery ticket on February 10, 2006. Since then, the scratch-off ticket has raised more than $1.9 million 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.