More Help for Veterans

CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn today urged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to do a better job of assessing returning veterans’ health needs and challenges, and to lay out specific plans to expand health care coverage and treatments.

In a joint letter to USDVA Secretary Nicholson, the Governor and the Lt. Governor said it is unacceptable that the federal authorities do not have a clear grasp of our Iraq and Afghanistan returning veterans’ health needs, in spite of a recent report that says that nearly a third of them are suffering from multiple medical issues, including mental health conditions.

“We believe veterans deserve to have their sacrifices recognized and honored,” Gov. Blagojevich and Lt. Gov. Quinn wrote, “and a big part of the gratitude we owe them deals with making sure veterans can see a doctor when they need it, buy prescriptions when they need them, and receive the federal benefits they’re entitled to.”

An Institute of Medicine report found that nearly 29 percent of Gulf War veterans have experienced medical issues since their return, as opposed to 16 percent of servicemen and women not deployed. The study could not identify the cause of the divergence due to the military’s poor record keeping. The Governor and Lt. Governor’s letter underscored that without adequate data, the federal VA will have a difficult time identifying veterans who are eligible for special disability benefits.

The returning veterans’ health needs are further complicated by the fact that all servicemen and women, including Reserve and National Guard members, who served in a theater of combat operations are eligible for hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care for injuries or illnesses that may be related to combat service only for a period up to two years beginning on the date of discharge or release from service.

“If the federal government won’t look out for the needs of our veterans, then the Land of Lincoln will step up,” Gov. Blagojevich and Lt. Gov. Quinn wrote. “But in light of the Institute of Medicine report, we urge your department to commission a thorough study on the pressing health needs returning veterans face, and to outline specific plans to expand coverage and treatment to our veterans.”