Willis Backing Reforms to Help Returning Veterans Access Services, Prevent Suicide

03/01/2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Veterans will have better access to health services, treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and job training under legislation backed by state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, intended to help returning service members transition into civilian life and prevent veteran suicide.

“We need to make sure that we are doing all we can to help the men and women who have defended our country,” said Willis. “This measure will help to ensure veterans have 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. Willis 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 Willis voted to create in 2014. The panel of legislators, veterans and their advocates 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.

Willis is sponsoring House Bill 2647, which would require the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs (IDVA) to create several programs to better serve veterans with PTSD and other service-related mental illnesses. Willis’ 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 suicide and mental health.

Willis 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.

“This legislation is about fairness and helping those who have put their lives on the line to defend our freedom,” said Willis. “The emotional impacts of war can continue long after the battles are over, and this legislation will help support those who still are struggling.”

Willis is serving her third term in the Illinois General Assembly as State Representative of the 77th District, which includes O’Hare Airport and portions of Addison, Bellwood, Bensenville, Franklin Park, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, Stone Park, and Wood Dale.