Recognizing Illinois veterans and their families

Legislation to assist and honor Illinois veterans and their families was signed into law this week during the Veterans Day program at the Illinois State Fair.

Every public state university will now be required to establish an admissions process in which honorably discharged veterans who were on active duty during the fall semester will be allowed to submit an application for admission to the university to enroll as a freshman student for the spring semester. House Bill 4627/Public Act 99-0806 was introduced in response to a request from an Illinois veteran who was unable to enroll for the spring semester because the school mandated that all entering freshman must first enroll for the fall semester. Now public universities in Illinois must accommodate those veterans and first-time college freshmen who want to begin their college career immediately.

House Bill 5938/Public Act 99-0813 renames and expands the eligibility pool for a program now known as the “Veterans’ Home Medical Providers Loan Repayment Program.” The eligibility pool for the program will now include physicians and certified nursing assistants, rather than just registered professional nurses. The goal of the legislation is to encourage greater numbers of more highly qualified professionals to apply for jobs at the state’s veterans’ home, which would hopefully translate into better care for Illinois’ veterans.

Also signed was legislation that will allow the family of veterans who were killed in action while on active duty to apply for a designation that would allow the placement of an honorary sign on roadways (HB 4344/PA 99-0802). The idea was brought forth by Denise Meehan, the mother of PFC Andrew Meari, who lost his life while serving in Afghanistan. Ms. Meehan said the new “Heroes Way Designation Act” is a way to ensure the names and service of Illinois’ fallen will be acknowledged and honored forever in their communities.

Another new law will establish an annual Gold Star Family Day (HB 4389/ Public Act  99-0803), while an additional proposal (HB 5003/ Public Act  99-0807) mandates establishment of a veterans court program in each judicial circuit  to provide veterans and service members with court programs better suited to serve their specific needs. In that same vein, SB 3401/ Public Act 99-0819 includes veteran assistance commissions as an alternative court-ordered assessment and treatment option.

Finally, two other new laws make changes relating to military license plates (HB 5402/ Public Act 99-0809) to state that individuals who qualify for the military specialty plates may reclassify their standard plate registration without paying replacement fees or the registration sticker cost, and to allow the surviving spouse of a deceased military service member to retain the special license plates if he/she is a resident of Illinois and if the transfer takes place within 180 days of the death of the service member (HB 4433/ Public Act 99-0805).

Chapin Rose

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