Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today kicked off a forum on benefits available to county employee veterans by emphasizing the commitment of her administration to helping vets navigate what can often be a confusing system of services available to them.
The forum was the inaugural event in the outreach Cook County is making both to its employee veterans and to veterans at-large through the County’s Department of Veterans Affairs. The department was created by President Preckwinkle and the County Board last December, with a mission of expanding opportunities and programs for veterans in Cook County.
“We are grateful for your service,” President Preckwinkle told the audience that had gathered in the Cook County Law Library for the forum. “We are all better off because of it. Each of the men and women who served their nation did so with incredible courage and commitment. The contributions that our service men and women make to this nation don’t end when they take off their uniforms, and neither do our obligations to them.
“As Cook County Board President, I take these responsibilities seriously. All our veterans need to know that when they come home, their country is there for them.”
Veterans Affairs department Director Bill Browne said the program was developed based on feedback obtained from county employee veterans. “When you signed up for our outreach program, we asked what topics would you like more information about. Benefits were at the top of the list,” Browne said.
Speakers included representatives from the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA), the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA), and the VA’s Jesse Brown Hospital. Resource staff members from county departments representing human resources, risk management and the pension board were also available to respond to questions from the employee veterans.
Topics covered by the speakers included creating a comprehensive file of service-related material to ease the process of filing claims; benefits and services offered by the VA and IDVA; and the assistance the various agencies can offer veterans and their families in working through what is often a maze of rules and regulations.
Representatives of the various federal, state and county agencies were also available to speak individually with the employee veterans about specific issues they may be encountering.
One employee vet attending the forum expressed his gratitude for the event during the question and answer period. “I’ve been a county employee for a long, long time, and this is the first time the county has done anything for its veterans,” said Vincent Salamone, a Korean War veteran, who works in the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways.
The forum was an example of how the county’s new Department of Veterans Affairs can serve its employee veterans through pro-active outreach and engagement, Preckwinkle said.
“This is only the beginning. We know there is far more to be done,” Preckwinkle said. “We will continue to engage our veterans and collaborate with other organizations and agencies committed to supporting our veterans.”