SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. JB Pritzker signed seven bills into law Sunday to improve life for veterans and their families.
Service members and their spouses will soon have much shorter wait times on applications for professional licenses in Illinois. Anyone with equivalent licensure in another state will have an expedited process.
“This symbolizes what can be done when we prioritize the professional interests of our servicemen and women as we strive to make Illinois a more welcoming place to live,” said Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D- East St. Louis).
Another law creates new consumer protections for veterans and service members who are frequently charged for benefits from private insurance companies.
“We’re protecting them from organizations who sell for a profit what they could get for free from the state or the county or the feds,” said Rep. Mark Walker (D-Arlington Heights).
Honoring all veterans, regardless of sexuality or gender identity
Military data show roughly 13,000 service members were discharged under the federal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The harmful rule prohibited gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from serving in the American armed forces. Most LGBTQ veterans continue to have benefits denied due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, one of the new laws allows those veterans to upgrade their service records to honorably discharged.
“Illinois wants veterans to know that we value them, that we’re grateful for their service, and today we restore the benefits, services and honor to these Illinois veterans with our gratitude,” said. Rep. Joyce Mason (D-Gurnee).
Pritzker stressed caring for the military is very important to him as the governor’s father and grandfather served as naval officers.
“The challenges they faced were very different than the ones our service members face today,” Pritzker said. “However, one truth will always persist. It is our responsibility to serve our heroes as they have served us.”
Senate Bill 505 allows the state to present family members and next of kin with a state flag if a member of the Illinois National Guard dies while on active duty or training.
“In all the different wars and all the different natural disasters, they’re always there for us,” said Rep. Dave Vella (D-Rockford). “They’re an example of selflessness and courage that I knew I wanted to honor.”
Improving veterans’ benefits
Sen. Mike Hastings (D-Tinley Park) says giving an Illinois and American flag to loved ones of a fallen National Guard members is the right thing to do. The Army veteran says all of the bills signed into law Sunday are phenomenal changes for veterans. In fact, each of the bills passed out of both chambers with bipartisan support.
“It not only makes Illinois a better place to live, but it’s something to be proud of across the country,” Hastings said. “There’s a lot of other states that take pride in the veterans’ benefits they give to their veterans. Illinois is the best veterans’ benefits state in the entire country.”
Senate Bill 2089 requires the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to fly the American, Illinois, and POW flags at all state parks within the next five years. Local groups and individuals can also make donations to the department’s fund for special projects to help cover the costs for the flags.
“The American flag represents the greatest country in the world,” said Rep. Christopher Belt (D-Swansea). “The Illinois flag represents the greatest state in the country. And the POW/MIA flag is the reason those two are the greatest.”
Another law allows the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to create Fold of Honor decals for Illinois license plates. Funds from this project will help create educational scholarships for military families. Finally, House Bill 2894 recognizes the first Saturday of May as Veterans Gardening Day. Sponsors say communities can use the day to honor and commemorate veterans from across Illinois.
Breaking down roadblocks for those who served
“Today we will take action to make the lives of those who served better by enhancing services and breaking down roadblocks as we honor them in new and thoughtful ways,” said Terry Prince, Acting IDVA Director.
The bill signing ceremony took place at Camp Lincoln in Springfield which is also home to the Illinois National Guard.
“We all know how important it is to express gratitude to those who have bravely served our country. Yet, cheer gratitude is not enough,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “We must institute policies that give every member of our military, our veterans, and their families the support, honor, and opportunities that they deserve.”
Stratton later noted the people of Illinois will never forget those who serve to protect the country.
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