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Memorial Day Vigil at VA

Veterans from across Illinois will hold a vigil at the VA Regional Office, 2122 W. Taylor, on Wednesday, May 31, at 4 p.m., calling for action to correct disparities in disability benefits for veterans in the state.

[Other upcoming veterans’ activities are listed below.]

Illinois veterans have the lowest average disability compensation payments in the nation, as well as the smallest proportion of claimants rated totally disabled due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans have been receiving letters saying their claims are being reviewed, but the letters give no information to help recipients monitor the process, said Ray Parrish of Vet-Net, which is sponsoring the vigil.

Veterans at the vigil will carry signs with their names on them in an effort “to help VA personnel put a face to the VA claim number,” Parrish said.

Volunteer Vet-Net claims counselors will be available at the vigil.

Parrish holds responsible senior managers in the Illinois VA system who “pride themselves on denying claims.” He says the Veterans Disability Compensation Commission – established by Congress after efforts to cut veterans benefits failed last year – is seeking ways to cut costs, and Illinois’s stringent disability rules could become a national model.

Vet-Net was launched last year with initial plans of forming veteran outreach teams to assist homeless and severely mentally ill vets who “fall through the cracks” of the current system, using a “vet-to-vet” mentoring approach, Parrish said.

Local nonprofits which now do outreach to the mentally ill have no vet-specific programs, he said, and veterans organizations now providing representations on claims are overwhelmed and unequipped to deal with veterans with mental health issues like PTSD.

Vet-Net hopes to open a veterans center and shelter, modeled on the San Francisco group Swords To Plowshares. Founders Charles Coleman and David Rogers now offer housing and employment counseling, and Parrish provides counseling on PTSD, VA claims and discharge upgrades.

The Iraq War has reactivated PTSD symptoms for some Vietnam veterans, Parrish said. He has also counseled Iraq Vets.

“Half the time they are AWOL,” he said. “After one or more deployments they’ve been ordered back to Iraq, and they’re absolutely not getting on that airplane – if they have to kill themselves.”

He helps them get medical discharges, but they often fail to follow through with treatment, he said.

UPCOMING VETERANS’ ACTIVITY

Monday, May 29, 11 a.m.: Vietnam Veterans Against the War hold a Memorial Day commoration at Wacker and Wabash, calling for action on depleted-uranium poisoning and PTSD for Iraq War vets as well as withdrawal from Iraq. Contact Barry Romo, 773-276-4189; Richard Muhammad, 773-616-5058.

Friday, June 2, 11 a.m.: Gay Veterans will be honored at Daley Plaza. Vietnam veteran Robert Bell will speak along with former Army Specialist Jeff Howe (discharged due to an online profile following two tours of duty in Iraq) and Kathi Westcott of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Contact William Greaves, Chicago Council on Human Relations, 312-744-7911.

June 23-24: Veterans service organizations hold the annual Homeless Veterans Standdown at the National Guard Armory, North and Kedzie.

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