CHICAGO – In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, officials from Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s Administration today hosted a Veteran’s Benefits Fair and Town Hall Meeting in Humboldt Park, reaching out to Hispanic veterans to promote the Governor’s landmark Veterans Care health insurance program. Officials from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) were on hand to answer questions and take applications for Veterans Care, a new state program that provides access to affordable, comprehensive insurance coverage to thousands of veterans. Veterans can also sign up by visiting the Veterans Care website at www.illinoisveteranscare.com or by calling 1-877-4VETSRX.
“Thousands of veterans in Illinois live 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. As we continue honoring the sacrifice of the state’s Hispanic veterans during Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to make sure they also know that Veterans Care will provide them with the health care they need so they can see a doctor when they need to” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Under the first phase of Veterans Care, 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.
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 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 active duty 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.
The federal VA 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’m proud that the State of Illinois has implemented such a great program that will provide health coverage to those who need it. Veterans Care will benefit a number of the more than 1,000 Hispanic veterans who are living in Illinois,” added Jason Watson, a Hispanic veteran who served honorably in the United States Marine Corps from 1991-1995 and is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Veterans Outreach Program of Illinois.
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.
At the Humboldt Park event, the IDVA also announced that Governor Blagojevich named William Luna, of Chicago, as the State of Illinois’ September “Veteran of the Month” for his longtime commitment and dedication to the local Hispanic community.
“William Luna is a former Green Beret who every year hosts a ceremony to honor other Hispanic heroes. But he also works very hard for his community, by teaching English to immigrants, coaching young men and dedicating time and energy to several veterans’ organizations. He’s a proud example of what Hispanic veterans have done for their country and Illinois,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
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, IDVA Director Roy L. Dolgos and Assistant Director Rochelle Crump presented Luna with the award at the Veteran’s Benefits Fair and Town Hall Meeting in Humboldt Park.
“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.
William Luna served in the United States Army from 1955-1961 with the 11th Airborne Division as a Paratrooper and was a Green Beret in the 10th and 12th Special Forces. He retired from the Selective Service System as a Lieutenant Colonel. Luna is the 1958 U.S. Army Golden Gloves Boxing Champion.
Luna hosts an annual ceremony in Little Village’s Park Plaza to honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Manuel Perez, Jr. and increase awareness of the many contributions made by Hispanic military heroes.
He also authored a book entitled Hispanics in America’s Defense in 1982 at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Luna volunteers his time teaching English to immigrants and as a boxing coach for youths at the Mexican-American Youth Athletics Association. He is also a professor of Chicano History at Indiana University Northwest and a member of several veteran organizations including the American Legion Post 508, AMVETS Post 326, Charles Galvan Chapter of the American GI Forum, Mexican-American Veterans Association (MAVA) and the National Association of Hispanic American Officers.
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 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.