CHICAGO – On behalf of Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs L. Tammy Duckworth joined Lt. Governor Pat Quinn at a press conference in the James R. Thompson Center today, where they announced the steps that are being taken to pay the families who have lost loved ones in the war.
“I am so pleased that the Governor’s office is able to identify a funding source to compensate these families in need while the remaining funds work their way through the legislative process for approval. Already going through so much with the loss of a loved one, they shouldn't have to wait to receive these benefits,” said IDVA Director L. Tammy Duckworth. “We are taking immediate action to help these 22 families and as this war continues, we will be taking steps to address the needs of the growing number of families of our fallen heroes. We are determined to keep our commitment to those who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.”
In October 2004, Governor Blagojevich signed Senate Bill 1668, expanding Illinois’ existing line-of-duty benefit – initially created for police officers and firefighters – to include families of soldiers killed in the Global War on Terror. The state benefit amounts to more than $270,000, as adjudicated by the Court of Claims.
The line-of-duty benefit offered to Illinois servicemembers was set at $10 million in FY07. Upon realizing that the cost of war has been much higher and more tragic than anticipated, the Governor's office requested a supplemental appropriation of $5 million in coordination with the 94th General Assembly last fall to ensure the fund could continue to meet the growing needs of the Illinois' military families for the remainder of the fiscal year. This appropriation was passed in the Senate but action wasn’t taken in the House.
“We set an example for the entire nation by pledging a significant benefit, equal to that given to survivors of fallen firefighters and police officers, to the families of Illinois Servicemembers killed in the line of duty.” Lt Gov Pat Quinn said. “These families have endured a great loss, they should not have to wait months and years for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn. As President Abraham Lincoln said, we on the homefront have a moral duty to ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.’”
The plan unveiled today by the Blagojevich Administration addresses the needs of the 22 families with approved claims but who are still waiting for the money. The plan calls for the Court of Claims to pay off four of the outstanding claims in full amount. $1 million will be borrowed from the Veterans Care health insurance program and will be distributed equally to the remaining families awaiting their money, each receiving $50,000 dollars. The Governor's office and IDVA is again vigorously working with state legislators this year for a supplemental appropriation bill. Once this supplemental appropriation is passed by both chambers of the 95th General Assembly, the rest of these families' claims will be awarded by the Court of Claims, with the most outstanding ones first. The $1 million borrowed from the Veterans Care health insurance program will be returned once the supplemental is approved with an additional requested $1 million from the supplemental for the program.
In the Governor's 2008 budget, he increased his request for the Line of Duty Compensation benefits to $15 million.
“The State of Illinois is a national leader when it comes to innovative programs and initiatives that help our veterans and their family members. In fact, we are one of the only states that offers this significant and great benefit, which is a reflection of how deeply we all care for our brave veterans and their family members,” added Director L. Tammy Duckworth. “Both the Governor and I have a commitment to these deserving families in their time of great financial and emotional need that we are going to keep.”
Through the past four years, the Blagojevich Administration has launched a number of initiatives to support Illinois veterans including:
Veterans Care: Jointly created by Gov. Blagojevich and Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, and launched in September of 2006, Veterans Care is designed to provide affordable, comprehensive health care to thousands of Illinois veterans who do not qualify for coverage through the federal Veterans Administration.
Veterans Cash: Launched in February of 2006, Veterans Cash is the Lottery’s first lottery ticket where 100 percent of proceeds go to support Illinois veterans. Proceeds from the sale of this ticket are deposited into an interest bearing account in the State Treasury called the Illinois Veterans Assistance Fund. The Illinois General Assembly appropriates this money solely to IDVA who awards the money in grants, fund additional services or conduct research relating to veterans’ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, homelessness, health insurance costs, and disability benefits.
Manteno Home PTSD Pilot Program: Blagojevich Administration officials broke ground in 2006 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.
The Governor has also signed into law numerous pieces of legislation helping veterans and members of the military, including:
• Senate Bill 1279, which is a tax incentive for Illinois employers to hire our state's military heroes. Employers can earn an income tax credit of up to $600 dollars annually for every qualified veteran hired after January 1, 2007. The credit is available for veterans who were members of the Armed Forces, the Armed Force reserves, or the Illinois National Guard on active duty in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
• 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 has paid out over $5.2 million to nearly 10,000 families, and 25 other states have molded similar programs after Illinois.