A Nation Indebted

By Daniel Biss

This Veterans Day, I’m thinking a lot about how Illinois can better serve the individuals who have heroically served our country.

After defending our nation both at home and abroad, veterans have earned our gratitude and respect. We’re deeply indebted to these heroes for serving us, and yet society isn’t serving them. Veterans face huge challenges in access to healthcare, unemployment, and homelessness when they return home.

Improving Veterans Services

The current system is a patchwork of federal, state, and private service programs and organizations intended to provide benefits to our veterans. While well meaning, it’s confusing and difficult to keep track of how each fits together to provide the services needed. From housing to healthcare, education to job training, we must streamline and simplify veterans services so that they can easily access the services they are entitled to.

Improving Veterans Healthcare

When it comes to providing our veterans with the best possible healthcare, Illinois comes up short. The state simply doesn’t have enough VA healthcare facilities to serve the number of veterans that call Illinois home. We’ve established Veterans Choice, a program allowing eligible veterans to seek care from non-VA providers, but again, this is confusing and reimbursements can be slow, so the program isn’t as successful as it needs to be.

The answer to this is simple and yet difficult – we must establish a single-payer Medicare-for-All healthcare model in Illinois. This is a model that would benefit all Illinoisans, veterans and non-veterans alike, and we need bold progressives to overcome the political challenges that stand in our way. Our veterans didn’t shy away from what’s difficult when they served, and we should take their example to heart.

Additionally, technology can be a powerful tool in delivering healthcare to veterans. Telemedicine can reach veterans in underserved areas and can help those suffering from mental health issues overcome stigma to access the care they need. We must invest in technological innovations that can bring care to our veterans.

Veterans Workforce Development

One of the biggest challenges veterans face when they return home is getting back to a normal civilian life. The key to this is finding a job. It’s not always easy to match military training and certification to civilian jobs. We must develop training programs that help veterans apply their existing skills to civilian jobs, and develop new skills that will help them find meaningful opportunities in their communities. And then, we must help them seek out those opportunities with job placement programs and incentives to businesses that hire veterans.

Veterans make great employees. We know this. We need to make sure employers know it, too.

Addressing Veterans Homelessness

While the overall number of homeless veterans is in decline, there is still much to be done to ensure no one who has served our country falls through the cracks. By providing quality mental health and drug treatment programs, we can address the underlying factors that contribute to veteran homelessness. And while we work with our veterans to treat those medical issues, we must also provide housing assistance and placement services.

Our veterans have sacrificed to keep us safe and to preserve all the rights and freedoms we cherish. We owe it to these heroes to welcome them home with dignity, and to give them all the tools they need to live their best lives here in Illinois.

Thank you for joining the effort