IL veterans programs continue, despite budget strains

By Stephen Nye

Through both federal and local systems, the department’s objective is “to help our Illinois veterans and family members get the benefits they’ve earned through service,” said Ryan Yantis, public information officer for the department.

The department offers four major services: housing for 900 residents, outreach to about 721,000 Illinois veterans, reviews of educational institutions and grants for veterans who need long-term care, job placement or similar services.

The lack of Illinois’ budget poses a major concern to members of the department and the community, as 30 percent of the department’s budget comes from state funds. In total, the department funds programs using “50 percent federal funds, 30 percent state and 20 percent from the individuals,” Yantis said.

The department is staffed by 70 veteran service officers, who are trained and accredited by the US Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans and their families apply for available federal and state benefits. From the $5 million dollar budget the officers have to work with, last year the officers helped veterans acquire $127 million in federal benefits, Yantis said. This results in a return of 25.4 dollars received by veterans for every one dollar spent by the department.

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    The Illinois lottery also acts as one of the major sources of revenue for the veterans the department serves.

    “The Illinois lottery Veterans Cash has provided nearly $12 million for programs to help veterans … 100 percent of the net proceeds are dedicated to support Illinois veterans,” according to the department’s public statement, according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs website.

    The University also provides programs for student veterans in tandem with state and federal initiatives. The Veterans Student Support Services acts as “a focus point for incoming veterans,” said Jason Sakowski, service coordinator.

    The service helps incoming veterans navigate benefits and services, running orientations and reaching out to veterans within the student body.

    In addition, the service pairs incoming veterans with unpaid peer mentors giving the new students a community contact to talk to, which greatly helps incoming veterans in their new environment and helps them better understand the benefits they are entitled to under the GI Bill without costing the school extra funds, Sakowski said.

    The service is open to all incoming veterans, helping to different degrees depending on the needs of the individual.

    Sakowski said there are 303 student veterans at the University and 160 family members using veteran benefits.

    The service is funded directly by the school, and all the resources given to the office go directly to the enrolled veterans, Sakowski said.

    Damien Buckley, junior in LAS, attended college after serving in the Navy for five years and said the he believes the services have met his needs.

    “They’ve been very, very friendly … I’ve had no issues so far,” Buckley said. “The services have been sufficient; they’ve got good involvement (with veterans).”

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