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Accomplishments of the 97th General Assembly: Veterans Issues

vets-blog-081312This week, the governor signed the Illinois Service Member Civil Relief Act, a measure Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tony Muñoz sponsored to help service members living in Illinois do their duty without getting caught in red tape. The new law allows all state agencies to extend various deadlines for service members, gives deploying soldiers and their families the right to terminate leases without penalty, and grants relief to military personnel in legal matters such as default judgments and foreclosure proceedings.

The Service Member Civil Relief Act is one of many laws Illinois Senate Democrats have championed to accommodate the unique circumstances of service members and their families. Senate Democrats have also taken the lead in making sure our state values veterans, honors their sacrifices, and does everything possible to help them make a successful transition to civilian life.

Jobs for Veterans

There were 21.9 million veterans living in the United States in 2009, and 1.4 million of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. With the pull-out of American troops from Iraq and the gradual drawdown in Afghanistan, tens of thousands more soldiers will reenter civilian life in the next few years.

 

Like other Americans, veterans are facing challenges finding good-paying jobs. But while the unemployment rate among middle-aged and older veterans is similar to (and in some cases lower than) the national average, the youngest veterans returning home from post-9/11 conflicts are less likely to find employment than their non-veteran counterparts. In 2011, about 12.1 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed, compared to the 9.1 percent national unemployment average. Depending on the time of year and the condition of the economy, the picture can be far bleaker; in December of 2011, the unemployment rate for veterans aged 20 to 24 was 30.1 percent.

Spurred by these alarming statistics, Senator John Sullivan proposed an expansion of the Hiring Veterans Tax Credit (SB 3241) so that Illinois businesses (which are already eligible for a tax credit when they hire a veteran) receive an additional credit if a new employee is a post-9/11 veteran who has been unemployed for at least four weeks.

“The men and women who serve in our military put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms; along the way, they gain practical skills, maturity, and leadership – attributes that serve them well in the civilian workplace,” said Sen. Sullivan, a frequent sponsor of legislative measures that benefit and honor veterans. “Offering businesses an incentive to hire veterans is a winning proposition for employers as well as for our returning heroes and their families.”

During the 97th General Assembly, Senate Democrats have introduced and passed a wide array of laws tackling the problem of veteran unemployment.

  • Sen. Muñoz, an Army veteran and former police officer, crafted a law allowing veterans who have won an Iraqi or Afghan campaign service medal and were honorably discharged to count their military experience in lieu of some educational requirements when they apply to the Illinois State Police (SB1597).
  • The Department of Natural Resources will make a concerted effort to recruit veterans to join the new Illinois Veteran Conservation Corps and work on projects that enhance public lands (HB4586).
  • The state is now working toward an official goal of awarding at least three percent of all state contracts to veteran-owned small businesses (SB1270).
  • The proceeds from the Illinois Veterans instant lottery game, previously used to fund housing and support services for veterans, can now fund employment programs and job training (SB3689).

Giving Back to Those Who Give So Much

Senate Democrats worked to pass legislation addressing the unique circumstances of current military personnel living in Illinois. First Lady Michelle Obama, a well-known advocate for military families, attended the signing of a bill Senate President John Cullerton sponsored to help service members and their spouses who hold professional licenses in other states become licensed in Illinois through an expedited process (SB 275).

Many other laws sponsored by Senate Democrats this session are improving quality of life for service members and veterans in Illinois by

  • prohibiting utilities from disconnecting service during the winter months to residential customers who are veterans and unable to pay a heating bill (HB1260)
  • developing public service announcements to help veterans with traumatic brain injuries find assistance (HB3275)
  • allowing veterans employed by the Secretary of State more days off from work to visit veterans’ hospitals (HB5006)
  • making it easier for the children of military personnel to transfer to another school when the family moves (HB3035)
  • allowing violations of the federal payday loan protections for military members to be prosecuted as state violations (HB3257)
  • giving the Secretary of State the authority to defer military drivers’ license expirations for an additional 30 days (HB3331)
  • paying Illinois National Guard members who are in the active service of the state the same wages as enlisted personnel with the same rank (SB3670)

Thanking Veterans – And Their Families

Senate Democrats want to recognize Illinois veterans and their families for the sacrifices they’ve made to protect our nation and its freedoms.

  • Charitable organizations can now create decals for veterans to add to their license plates to indicate their branch of service or theater of action (SB2568).
  • Legislators declared August 7 of each year Purple Heart Day in Illinois to recognize every veteran who has been wounded in the nation’s service (HB1537).

The surviving family members of military personnel killed in action deserve particular gratitude.

  • Senate Democrats introduced legislation to let local governments give property tax abatements to the spouses of fallen soldiers (SB3241).
  • If a state-run veterans’ home has a vacant bed, it can now admit the parent or spouse of a veteran who was killed in action (HB2875).

Other articles in the series:

http://www.illinoissenatedemocrats.com/index.php/features/2910-jobs-bills-enterprise-zones-boost-illinois-employment

http://www.illinoissenatedemocrats.com/index.php/caucus-news/blog-archive/2930-accomplishments-of-the-97th-general-assembly-the-great-outdoors