Their Last Battle - Update
Elderly and special needs veterans in Illinois got some good news from the state's 2009 budget; 36 of them will call The LaSalle Veteran's home THEIR home.
Governor Rod Blagojevich kept $9.3 million in the budget to open nearly all the beds in the LaSalle County home, 198 of 200, by year's end. Currently $3.3 million has been authorized, so the home held a successful employment fair last week, looking to hire the staff it needs so that the first round of vets can move in within thirty to sixty days.
As the ABC 7 I-Team reported in June, hundreds of elderly Illinois veterans have lingered and even died on waiting lists for years to get into one of the state's five veteran homes, but money for staffing has not been available, leaving beds empty.
Decorated World War II veteran Roy Doan will be one the vets given the opportunity to move to The LaSalle Veteran's Home. He moves in mid August.
Illinois veterans in need of care are dying while on a government waiting list. It's because Illinois lawmakers have taken too long to pay for the needed care.
Their last battle is a fight most veterans never thought they would have to wage late in life, against the government they once proudly served.
The I-Team has learned that hundreds of elderly Illinois vets are fighting for a place to spend their final days in one of Illinois' five veteran care homes, where there are empty beds and vacant rooms but no state money to support them.
The most crucial request from any combat soldier is "cover me." That's all Roy Doan wants - for the state of Illinois to cover him, just as Doan and his fellow GIs watched each others' backs in World War II.
"I was meant to be a soldier, I believe," said Doan.
Doan was decorated with the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. But at 87, he can't remember why.
"My memory is kind of shot. I don't know how much battle I'd seen, but I must have been in several combat instances. I was never afraid," he said.
Back then, the government was there for him. Not now. Doan is on a waiting list for one of 98 unfilled beds. They are in a brand new wing of a nursing home for veterans with Alzheimer's and dementia. But it is a nursing facility that has never opened, while the state budget remains in limbo.
"Those who are on the list have to wait three years to get in. The ones who are terminal can't even apply. They don't have that time limit," said Martin Rue, LaSalle Veterans' Commission.
World War II hero Doan has lingered on the list for a year and a half. Like many Illinois vets in waiting, Doan's family has been paying for private nursing home care at double the cost.
"Here we've got a facility just sitting there idling, and we are talking about veterans, and it seems to get caught into a pocket where it just sits," said son Doug Doan.
"For LaSalle, we have about 300 on the waiting list. In many cases, you have veterans who'll pass away while waiting for a bed to open," said Rep. Frank Mautino, (D) Spring Valley.
It took state representative Mautino 16 years to get the new wing built at LaSalle. But when it was finished, there was no money to open it.
"We have five homes. If we put $11 million into the operational budget and you can actually open every veterans' bed at all the homes within the state, and that is less than one thousandth of one percent of the general revenue fund," said Mautino.
Veterans advocates cry foul, pointing to the governor's million-dollar grant for a private school under cover of a burned-down church rehab; seniors who get free rides on the CTA they didn't ask for; legislators poised to receive pay raises; and government funds that go to health care for many people less deserving than veterans.
"Your illegal aliens, your criminals, drug addicts and gang bangers who get shot. Now, I'm not saying they shouldn't receive medical care, but I would think we could find six million or 8.2 million to take care of our veterans who haven't broken any laws," Rue said.
There is money in the budget now on the governor's desk to open beds at LaSalle and the four other state facilities. But it is uncertain whether that out-of-balance budget will be signed.
"If the money stays in the budget here, which I'm working with them on, I would get 198 of the 200 beds open," said Mautino.
While Springfield fiddles, hundreds of proud service veterans do a slow burn.
"I do feel old. Time has passed, and what is going to happen next in the future? I have no idea," said Roy Doan.
Even if the budget is signed by the June 30 deadline and veterans' money somehow survives, it will still be months before there is staff and equipment in place to open up all those beds.
For Roy Doan and other veterans, their last battle may be over by then.
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