Quinn signs veterans’ tax credit increase into law

CHICAGO – July 9, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today signed a new law that will help more Illinois Veterans find employment following their service to our country, an important measure he proposed during his State of the State address in February.

The Hiring Veterans Tax Credit will provide a significant additional tax credit for every unemployed Veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan a company hires, which will help businesses create jobs and give those jobs to the Veterans who have sacrificed so much in serving our state and our country. Unemployment for young returning Veterans in America was 30% in 2011.

“Veterans are committed, disciplined and experienced, and they know how to accomplish a mission,” Governor Quinn said. “We need these heroes in our workplaces, and increasing the Hiring Veterans Tax Credit will create more jobs for veterans and grow the economy in Illinois.”

Senate Bill 3241, sponsored by State Sen. John Sullivan (D-Rushville) and State Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Belleville), raises the Illinois Hiring Veterans tax credit from 10% to 20% of annual wages and more than quadruples the annual cap from $1,200 to $5,000. Many of these post-9/11 Veterans struggle with higher rates of unemployment compared with their civilian counterparts.

In addition, the new law also honors Gold Star families of fallen heroes across Illinois by making them eligible for the same property tax-relief available in some communities to the families of fallen firefighters and police officers. The law allows counties or municipalities the option of reducing or eliminating property taxes for a surviving spouse of a fallen Illinois soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan in the way some choose to honor the families of fallen firefighters and police officers.

“We have a tremendous responsibility to honor the service and sacrifices Veterans and their families have made since 9/11,” said IDVA Director Erica Borggren. “These measures will go a long way towards helping Veterans and the families of fallen service members begin the process of rebuilding their lives.”

President Obama recently announced that more than one million service members will leave the military between now and 2016, with many thousands returning home to Illinois. Many of these young post-9/11 Veterans will be returning to sectors of the economy that were hardest hit by the Great Recession including construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Veterans ages 18-24 nationwide have an unemployment rate roughly twice as high as their civilian peers.

Governor Quinn launched “Operation Home Front” while he was Illinois State Treasurer to give National Guard members and reservists a tool to inform them about their rights during the Gulf War. Most recently, the Governor has expanded Operation Home Front to be a place where active servicemembers and Veterans can learn about the resources available to them and their families, and a place for the public to learn about different ways they can support our troops.

First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama recently joined Governor Quinn as he signed a new law designed to help military spouses more easily find employment when they move to Illinois for military service by granting expedited professional licenses. Illinois is the 23rd state to adopt such legislation.

For more information about benefits for our Veterans, visit Veterans.Illinois.gov or call the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs at 217-782-6641 or 312-814-2460.

Source: http://www.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=2&RecNum=10374

 

Full federal funding of VA health care – including mental health care for all veterans without further payment.

Mandatory VA Healthcare Funding: Currently, VA healthcare is funded through a process that requires Congressional debate every year. This means that the VA healthcare budget is a political football tossed back and forth year after year. Over the last five years, a movement has grown to make VA healthcare funding what is called an “entitlement.” In Congressional jargon, an entitlement is something that is automatically funded unless Congress takes action, the exact opposite of what happens now. Instead of being an annual political football, VA healthcare would be funded by a formula.

mandatory funding

Mandatory Funding for VA Healthcare
Coalition of Veterans Organizations
March 19, 2007

VA healthcare funding by Congress is “discretionary” funding. By this, we mean that each year, the VA healthcare is funded according to the judgment of Congress and the President. As a result, VA healthcare funding is a political football, debated each year according to the political needs of the Administration and Congress.

Veterans’ call for mandatory funding means that VA healthcare funding would become an “entitlement.” In Congress, an entitlement is funded each year according to a formula. It is not subject to political debate. The formula Veterans are calling for would include three parts: the number of Veterans using the VA, the cost of actually treating a Veteran, and an annual adjustment for increases in providing medical care.

The number of Veterans using the VA is a straightforward projection the VA makes every year anyway. The cost of actually treating a veteran is already known. Current funding is insufficient to cover the actual costs of covering Veterans and is leading to the cost cuts in services provided to veterans. The mandatory funding bill needs to have a one-time increase in funding to make sure the real costs of treating Veterans is funded. Increases in the cost of healthcare each year are also well known. That is how insurance companies determine how much to raise their rates. The significant increases in recent years in the VA healthcare budget have not been enough to cover these yearly increases in healthcare costs. The GAO has pointed out that recent VA projections of healthcare costs have seriously underestimated actual costs. The mandatory funding bill must ensure that this is corrected immediately.

This year, the Democrats have proposed a VA healthcare budget of $37.1 billion for fiscal year 2008. That is an increase of $4.8 billion (a 14.8 percent increase over fiscal year 2007). The President has proposed a budget of $34.2 billion (an increase of 5.5 percent over 2007). The contrast between these offers gives some idea of how the political process makes VA healthcare funding a political football.
Veterans and the major Veterans organizations have called for mandatory VA healthcare funding. “The DAV and other groups have long urged Congress to enact legislation that will provide a reliable, predictable funding stream for veterans’ health care. Assured funding will enable the VA to efficiently and effectively plan for and meet the growing needs of our nation’s sick and disabled veterans, both now and in the future,” said the DAV National Commander Bradley S. Barton recently.
The Mandatory VA Healthcare Funding bill before this Congress (the 100th) is HR 1382 Sponsored by Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY). There are no co-sponsors for this bill. It uses the formula outlined above. While it does not call explicitly for a one-time increase in funding, that is built in to the formula it uses. Mandatory funding bills have been put forward in each Congress since 2002.

Another bill before the House Veterans Affairs Committee was submitted by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). This could be called the “Not-quite Mandatory Funding Bill” HR 1041. It sets up a board to determine VA healthcare budget needs and requires the President to submit that as his VA healthcare budget. Additionally, it also calls for Vets to face no more than 30-day wait to get into a VA.
One politically connected person has suggested that in order to make VA funding truly “mandatory,” a Trust Fund would have to be set up with an independent funding source. This has, to our knowledge, never been proposed in legislation. The idea is similar to the Social Security, Medicare and Federal Highway Trust Funds. It would be funded by a tax and the funds could not be used for any other purpose than VA healthcare. A tax on military hardware procurement has been suggested as a possible source of funds. The idea behind this is that without a Trust Fund, any Congress can undo what another Congress has done, so VA healthcare would still be, in fact, a political football. Congress has been much less willing to tamper with Trust Funds, so this would better ensure consistent VA healthcare funding.

The key idea here is that the VA should not be the one to determine who they treat. Congress should tell the VA who to treat and then the VA should do it. Thus, Congress should set the eligibility requirements for VA healthcare.
Eligibility for VA healthcare should be extended to all veterans who have been honorably discharged from the military service, including the regular, reserve and National Guard components. There should be no income provisions or “means test” and there should be no exclusions or divisions among veterans as to who shall be treated.
This specifically means that the 2-year limitation on VA healthcare that has been imposed on veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be eliminated and they, like veterans of other wars, will have lifetime access to the VA.
It also means that the “freeze” or exclusion of so-called “Priority 8” veterans would be eliminated. There would be no longer a need to have any income-related criteria for receiving VA healthcare.
Modern warfare has meant a drastic change in the needs of Veterans. Many more Veterans are living after devastating wounds received in combat. In World War II there were two casualties for every fatality. In Vietnam, it was 3 to 1. Currently, it is running 16 to 1! This means that men and women are returning to civilian life with devastating and lifetime wounds—both physical and mental. Veterans with shattered bodies need the VA specifically to deal with the kinds of conditions that one rarely sees outside the military. The VA has always excelled at this.
But modern warfare is also devastating to the mental state of those serving and we are seeing more men and women returning from war with extreme and severe mental and emotional disorders than ever before. Many of these conditions take years to develop and to manifest themselves with sufficient severity for the veteran to seek help. Setting time limitations is a lesson unlearned from previous conflicts and absolutely demonstrates the VA’s inability to care for the wounded. In addition limitations cut off the veterans possibility for recovery and rehabilitation. Recent legislation has ensured that mental health and physical health are seen as equivalent. This law must be applied to VA healthcare.
There are many more women in combat than ever before. The VA must recognize the expanded needs of women and their particular forms of trauma. In addition to combat-induced suffering of combat wounds and mental and emotional illness, women are subjected to sexual abuse and even assault.
No legislation has yet been proposed that covers everything said above. Two bills, HR 612 (Rep. Filner, D-CA, Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee) and S 383 (Akaka, D-HI, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee) calls for extending the 2-year limitation for veterans that served in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2 to 5 years. We consider this totally insufficient, inadequate and uncaring. Another bill, HR 463 (Rep. Rothman, D-NJ), calls for the elimination of the freeze on Priority 8 veterans.

Reform of funding and full accounting for all VA mental health services for veterans. Scores of veterans—many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—do not receive the mental heath care they need, despite front-page stories detailing the horrors these veterans face.

Equality of women’s benefits and healthcare

1. Methods to outreach to women veterans are ineffective without public advertisement. Congress must create legislation that allows the VA to conduct public outreach to the underserved women veterans.

• Thousands of women nationwide are unaware of their VA status. Due to limited healthcareenrollment of women veterans; gender specific healthcare services i.e. mammograms are out sourced to private facilities.

2. VA must do more to provide women veterans with preventive heath care education and increase services for awareness and care for reproductive concerns.

3. VA must do more prevention care for older women veterans.

4. Military Sexual Trauma is a criminal act and must be treated and processed as such. Congress must ensure that legislation mandates that perpetrators are registered in their home of record state and place of discharge, to ensure all women are safe.

The Department of Defense reported on March 16, 2010 that Military Sexual Assaults increased 11 percent from fiscal year 2008.

 

Congress must pass legislation to make sexual assault on women or men in the military a criminal offense and constitute a stiffer penalty when serving in combat zones.

 

5. Women Program Managers in the VA Benefits office and VA Medical Center must do more to ensure staffing in their work place is familiar with them and their appointed roles so that women veterans are tracked through this process of referral.

 There are 56,656 women veterans in Illinois.

 

6. Women veterans with military history of suicide and other crucial mental health issues shouldnot be turned away because of discharge dates. Treatment should be provided until a solid referral can be made for care in an alternative healthcare system.

7. The Center for Women Veterans must improve their strategy to outreach to women veterans across the nation. As of 2009 according to the VA there are more than 1,824,198 women veterans in the United States and Puerto Rico.

8. Congress must ensure that the VA is doing more to provide care to the trend of younger women veterans and their children. When women veterans separate from the military with no healthcare their children are also uninsured.

9. Congress must implement legislation to provide children that were born within the tenure of military service healthcare for a maximum of 2 years when the veteran is unemployed.

More than 128,397 females that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have been discharged from the military since 2002.

 

Within one year (2008-2009) there was an increase of 15% of women registered in VA healthcare services.