SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Legislation making Illinois a leader in the fight to end Veteran suicide, introduced by state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, and a USMC Veteran, passed the House Wednesday with broad bipartisan support.
“I have heard many stories from fellow veterans who have experienced the loss of a comrade to suicide,” Kifowit said. “We have an obligation to ensure the men and women who have defended our country get the care and treatment they deserve. This comprehensive package will improve care for our veterans and give them the resources they need.”
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 end Veteran suicide. 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 introduced House Bill 2647, and passed the bill with bipartisan support. Her measure 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 one 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.
“My hope is that this legislation can serve as a model for other states and for the federal government as a way to reach the goal of zero veteran suicides,” Kifowit said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this measure and I will continue advocating on behalf of our veterans.”
Visit Rep Kifowit’s website
200-1S Stratton Office Building
Springfield, IL 62706
1677 Montgomery Rd.
Aurora, IL 60504
(630) 585-1357 FAX