Illinois Serves as Beacon for State Benefits

Article excerpt

Some states provide generous benefits for veterans and National Guard returnees, while others lack them and are attempting to emulate successful programs.

The future is always uncertain for GIs returning from the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as those gearing up for deployment. That's why the Defense Department is working more closely with state governors and legislatures to ensure that veterans and Americans in uniform, along with their families, receive adequate benefits.

While federal VA benefits like the GI Bill and home loans are commonly used, most veterans forget or are unaware of the benefits available from states.

Many states offer support to National Guard families, but not all. Officials are now researching what neighboring states provide veterans and the National Guard, and trying to discover solutions.

"Giving families more opportunity to plan for the future is one of the most important things we can do," Indiana Gov. Joseph Kernan told Air Force Times.

California Effort Disappointing

States nationwide, like California, are not only looking at Illinois' veterans benefits, but also emulating its National Guard programs.

California duplicated Illinois' Family Relief Program, which was developed to help activated National Guard and reservist families suffering from financial hardships. In one year, however, the Golden State's fund paid out only $7,687 to three families from among 7,000 California GIs who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

That is disappointing when compared to Illinois, which paid out more than $3.4 million to some 6,000 National Guard and Reserve families since the program's birth three years ago.

California has 113,000 citizen-soldiers versus Illinois' 27,000.

Currently, around 1,500 Illinois National Guard members and reservists are on active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Illinois program director Eric Schuller said the program started when Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked the state's legislature for $5 million for general fund support.

Private contributions and close ties with veterans organizations, as well as fundraisers, primarily fund the Illinois program.

$20 Million in Death Benefits

In January 2005, Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled the Illinois Veterans Health Initiative for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Brave men and women have sacrificed everything for our safety," Quinn said. "Yet, they return from war only to face another battle at home-the battle for basic health coverage."

Quinn said the program will help those suffering from physical or mental health problems or lacking adequate health care.

Illinois also provides $500 grants to citizen-soldiers regardless of need, as well as $3,000 grants to those injured in the line of duty, said the Los Angles Times piece.

Illinois has paid out $272,000 in line-of-duty death benefits to every soldier-regular, Guard or Reserve-KIA or killed while training for deployment so far, according to the Times.

Lottery Supports Illinois VA

States also provide recently discharged veterans and their dependents with an array of benefits.

On Feb. 10, Illinois launched its newest program, Veterans Cash, a $2 lottery scratch-off game, which is the first instant ticket in Illinois lottery history where 100% of proceeds will go to support the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. …