Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Strives to Fill Gaps in Veteran Care | Chicago News


Illinois veterans’ homes are half full, with 560 beds of about 1,000 spaces available.

Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Terry Prince told lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday that admissions are slower than usual due to the pandemic, given they have to do a break whenever there is a case of COVID-19 in one of the five home states of veterans.

But he said the real culprit is the staff.

“Staffing, ladies and gentlemen, is a huge issue for all organizations, whether it’s at the state veteran’s home or going for coffee at your local cafe. All organizations face staffing challenges that have not been seen for years. The big resignation, as it has been called, has led us to look at it from the following angle: do we have enough nurses on staff to provide care for more than two and a half hours, ”Prince said. “And we don’t want to be average. We want to be above average. We want to provide four hours of care per resident per day.

Waiting lists could grow longer. As Vietnam veterans get older, Prince predicts a “tidal wave” of new veterans requiring higher levels of service.

Prince, who previously headed the Ohio Veterans Department, was appointed to his new post in April.

Her predecessor, former State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia, resigned in January after allegations of systemic mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic that contributed to an outbreak at the state-run veterans home in LaSalle in which 36 residents of the home died.

“Our investigation determined that the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (‘IDVA’) lack of COVID-19 preparedness contributed to the scale of the outbreak at home. In addition, communication failures at home and within the leadership of the IDVA also contributed to a delay in the response to the epidemic, ”concluded an investigation by a state watchdog.

Prince testified at a hearing about gaps in health care coverage that the situation has improved, with LaSalle passing a federal inspection.

“IDVA has exceeded CDC and DPH guidelines with our testing programs and to date we have performed over 120,000 COVID tests, almost double the rapid antigen tests at our facilities. And due to the unique mission and sheer dedication of our employees, IDVA enjoys the highest overall staff immunization average of any state agency at 88%, ”Prince said.

The vaccination rate for residents of the state’s veterans homes is 99%, he said.

Prince says he has taken a “triage” approach at the agency, prioritizing addressing immediate needs. He is now moving forward with strategic plans. A long-vacant position to oversee veterans’ homes will be filled by next week, he has hired a veterans coordinator and established infection control programs.

It is also looking to add a technological component to help trace infections.

“I’m considering bringing video technology into our homes…” said Prince.

Prince said he helped bring video surveillance to the Walter Reed National Military Center and the Ohio veterans homes.

Communicating how to access services available to veterans, such as federal VA health care, is another challenge.

“Veterans are not educated or proactively informed about their health care benefits or think they don’t qualify. Just yesterday, I enrolled a veteran woman in VA health care, who was discharged from the military in January and has gone without any form of health care since then despite a brain tumor. This example is a weekly event at offices like mine across the state of Illinois whose job it is to help veterans access their benefits, ”said James Zimmerman, Supervisor of the Assistance Commission. to Kane County Veterans.

Lake County Veterans Aid Commission chief Andrew Tagen said there are 160 duty officers statewide assigned to work with about 600,000 Illinois veterans.

“Which means that every veterans service officer currently employed by the state or local governments of the state of Illinois must represent 4,000 veterans,” Tagen said. “That number is a number that cannot be reached, to reach each of these veterans.”

State Representative Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, said she was concerned about inequalities in care for black and brown veterans.

She is arguing for more officers on duty in communities where veterans reside and in at least every Senate district, but that proposal has stalled.

Meanwhile, State Representative Kelly Cassidy, a Democrat from Chicago, said she was concerned veterans who use medical cannabis could be stigmatized on medical reports from federal veterans affairs doctors. Used medicinally, she said, cannabis can save the government money spent on prescription drugs with harmful side effects.

Cassidy also asked Prince if residents of the state’s veterans homes were allowed to consume cannabis.

“They are not at the moment,” he said.

Prince said Illinois follows national guidelines set by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs; Illinois relies on federal per diem funding and receives federal oversight in the form of state home visits.

VA physicians are not permitted to sign a medical clearance required to enroll in the Illinois medical cannabis program.

Participants registered in medical cannabis are not considered ineligible for state veterans services or a place in state homes, he said, and veterans affairs physicians will enter the service. medical marijuana in comprehensive patient care plans.

Other areas of concern include addressing the high suicide rates among Veterans and helping Veterans access and pay for dental benefits.

Meanwhile, the state is moving forward with a $ 270 million rehabilitation of the veteran’s home in Quincy, following outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.

Prince has repeatedly told lawmakers that the state’s long-under construction sixth veteran’s home in Chicago will be ready to open soon.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.