SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Comprehensive recommendations to ensure veterans have better access to services, treatment for mental trauma and depression in addition to employment opportunities were presented in legislation being sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, and was approved unanimously by the House Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday.
“As a former Marine, I understand the sacrifices that so many of our veterans have made to protect our freedoms,” Kifowit said. “This robust initiative embraces recommendations made by the Veterans Suicide Taskforce and brings them to reality. Our veterans deserve to know, without a doubt, that the State of Illinois will be there for them.”
According to a recent study by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans commit suicide every day in this country. Kifowit is working to address this crisis by sponsoring a package of reforms streamlining access to existing services for veterans and providing new accommodations for returning service members as they seek civilian jobs and educational opportunities, all in an effort to reduce the number of veteran suicides. The reforms are recommendations of the Illinois Task Force on Veterans’ Suicide, which Kifowit led an effort to create in 2014. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Kifowit also served on the panel of legislators, veterans and their advocates that met throughout the state to gather information and craft legislation that will allow the state to more effectively meet the needs of the veteran community.
Kifowit has introduced House Bill 2647, which would require the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs (IDVA) to create several programs to better serve veterans with mental trauma, depression and other service-related mental illnesses. Kifowit’s bill directs IDVA to work with the federal Department of Defense to proactively identify Illinois veterans whose service exposed them situations found to increase the likelihood of suicidal tendencies. Veterans returning from heavy-casualty or high-conflict areas, or who served alongside another veteran who committed suicide will be proactively offered additional assistance. The IDVA would also create a public awareness campaign to promote a better understanding of mental health.
Kifowit’s legislation would work to improve the mental health training provided to veterans’ assistance commissions and other veterans’ groups. Licensed therapy dogs would also be used in greater numbers to provide comfort to veterans suffering from PTSD and the families of returning veterans would have access to better information on what they can do to assist their loved in their transition to civilian life.
The bill would also cut red tape and expedite filing of discharge paperwork, so veterans can begin receiving mental health treatment, job training and other services sooner. The state would work with the Department of Defense in creating a system where this important information is immediately filed when a service member is discharged from the Armed Forces. The IDVA would also partner with local chambers of commerce to create employer training programs for returning veterans and highlight “veteran friendly” employers. Kifowit’s bill is designed to allow the IDVA to form collaborations and coordinate with various existing Veteran Service Organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, in addition to working with existing non-profit groups to help achieve the goals of this legislation. In addition, the bill recognizes that partnership with the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense is necessary to meet the needs of our veteran population.
“I will be fighting for the passage of this legislation, so we can help our veterans, regardless of when they served,” Kifowit said. “I won’t leave any veteran behind from our WWII veterans to present day. “My bill represents a commitment to all our veterans that we will be here to support them and their families, for the rest of their lives.”
Visit Rep Kifowit’s website
200-1S Stratton Office Building
Springfield, IL 62706
1677 Montgomery Rd.
Aurora, IL 60504
(630) 585-1357 FAX