State responds to military concerns

In this day and age of answering machines, cell phones and e-mail, one of the things I find most frustrating is calling someone and not getting an answer. The phone rings and rings and rings, but no one answers. Finally, you hang up in frustration and wait to try again later.

In some ways, this echoes how veterans feel when trying to get answers from state government. You want someone to answer your questions, but cannot always get an answer. At least that is what I heard from Illinois veterans during hearings of the Task Force on Veterans last fall and spring. I am here to tell you that the Illinois General Assembly is listening and working to respond to your concerns.

This year, we sent a number of bills to the governor that will help veterans, enlisted military personnel and their families. Many of these address concerns heard during the hearings—rights for military families, the cost of license plates, and even cost concerns for veterans’ organizations. Below are summaries of the legislation, which will become law if the governor chooses to sign it.

Rights for enlisted military

Illinois is taking great steps to protect the education, employment and financial rights of its enlisted military personnel on active duty. Senate Bill 2526 will make information about these rights and responsibilities available to service members, their families and veterans’ organizations through a new publication detailing all the information military families need.

Several new rights may be included in that publication if they become law. House Bill 4372 allows military personnel called to federal active duty the right to tuition and fee refunds or credits if they cannot complete the semester due to federal active duty. Illinois residents on state active duty already have this benefit.

Senate Bill 2755 allows long-time National Guard members who leave the Guard while still in school to receive their tuition coverage for another year if they have not used their full tuition benefit. House Bill 4491 expands the MIA/POW scholarships to include dependents of Illinois National Guard members.

House Bill 4660 protects the right of enlisted military to return to their civilian jobs once their active duty ends. The bill would increase penalties for employers who fail to follow the law. Similarly, House Bill 4371 makes sure reserve members who could be called up at any time are not discriminated against by their employer.

License plates

One of the complaints we heard during task force meeting dealt with the cost of license plates. This year, we passed two bills dealing with license plates for veterans.

Senate Bill 2453 includes license plates for Gold Star recipients under the Circuit Breaker discount. House Bill 4489 allows Bronze Star and Silver Star recipients to get special license plates for the same price and regular license plate registration fees.

Veterans’ organizations

House Bill 4400 allows parking lots of veterans’ organizations to be part of the property tax freeze on their buildings. Veterans’ organizations already receive a property tax discount on their buildings, which helps keep down the costs of providing services to veterans throughout Illinois.

We must do all we can for our veterans. Although I am a veteran, I am not speaking for myself. Thankfully, I have not needed these benefits, but thousands more veterans do need this assistance. They gave of themselves for this country, and they deserve all the help we can give them. I hope the governor will quickly sign these bills into law. The veterans of Illinois deserve an answer.

State Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis represents the 31st District in Lake County. She serves as chairman of the Senate Republican Task Force on Veterans. Geo-Karis served as Lt. Commander with top secret clearance in the U.S. Naval Reserves.

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