SPRINGFIELD -- With a patriotic nod to Flag Day, several state lawmakers and veterans organizations urged passage Thursday of legislation to hire more veterans-service officers in Illinois.

By DANA HEUPEL


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


 


SPRINGFIELD -- With a patriotic nod to Flag Day, several state lawmakers and veterans organizations urged passage Thursday of legislation to hire more veterans-service officers in Illinois.



Senate Bill 82, which would authorize $3.2 million in state money for veterans organizations to hire service officers, is “a bill that puts our money where our mouth is,” said Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.



Service officers help veterans apply for benefits such as Veterans Administration medical care. At present, only a handful of paid officers in Illinois work for statewide organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, several veterans’ representatives said at a Statehouse news conference. There also are volunteers in local offices.



The VFW alone has a backlog of 1,400 cases in Chicago, said Matt Claussen, state commander of that organization.



Sandoval said state funds for veterans organizations to hire service officers have been cut and eliminated throughout the years, while the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs “attempted to create an army” of its own officers.



“But that doesn’t resolve the need for having veterans-service-officer organizations that are staffed,” he said, “because at the end of the day, the only duly authorized representative that has power of attorney is a veterans-service officer in one of the organizations.”



Service officers use their power of attorney to submit or appeal claims to the federal Veterans Administration for an individual seeking their help, Sandoval said.



The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs has more than 70 veterans-service officers in 51 offices throughout the state, said Jessica Woodward, a spokeswoman for the agency. When veterans come into those offices, she said, they are asked if they want someone to have power of attorney.



“They can choose from the (veterans) organizations or the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and we do serve and act as power of attorney for veterans throughout the state,” Woodward said.



She said the state agency is neutral on SB82.



“Obviously, we will look at every bill that has to do with veterans to make sure that the language provides the best possible solution for our veterans,” Woodward said.



The bill awaits final action in the Senate. If it passes there, it would go to the governor’s desk.


 


Dana Heupel can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or dana.heupel@sj-r.com.