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Six months of progress of Illinois Veterans’ Department

Wed, May 29, 2013

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Veterans who served as medics on the streets of Baghdad shouldn’t have to start from scratch on their Licensed LPN degrees at community colleges, says Illinois Dept. of Veteran Affairs Director Erica Borggren.

“Despite the fact that you’ve received great training and did it under stress circumstances, you have to start out at ground zero, yet it turns out you’ve done eight of the 10 requirements,” Borggren said in a telephone interview.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed an executive order in February that ordered formation of a bridge curriculum approved by the Dept. of Financial and Professional Regulations, Borggren said. As a result, military experience will give veterans a leg up when they use their GI Bill to further their education and transition to civilian life. Illinois was already one of five states on the President’s Veterans Employment Task Force, charged with translating skills towards state licensing, whether in medical fields or commercial driver’s licenses.

Starting to translate military work to the civilian world for professional licensing is one achievement of the six months since Veterans Day, Borggren said. Another major effort of the Illinois Dept. of VA and Illinois Department of Military Affairs (National Guard) was the launch in November of Illinois Joining Forces (IJF), a network of public and not-for-profit organizations working jointly to help active military and veterans and their families navigate a support system that can be confusing.

More than 100 organizations have participated provisionally in the last six months and 80 signed on formally in early May, Borggren said. The member-driven website lists resources and services provided by each organization, with regular updates on events, hours and locations. An admin team supports the site so that “I can’t find what I am looking for” queries go to the right IJF member organization. The goal is to create a system where there is “no wrong door” for service members, veterans and their families to access service. IJF is independent of the national Joining Forces but supportive of the work of First Lady Obama and Dr. Jill Biden regarding service personnel, veterans and their families.

Besides the website, 10 working groups have been established to address gaps in service member/veteran support:
• homelessness and housing
• education
• employment and job training
• behavioral health
• disability benefits
• access to medical care
• financial literacy
• families and children
• emergency assistance
• legal support

The Behavioral Health working group has had training on Military Sexual Trauma and “Military and Veterans 101” in which 620 service providers in behavioral health learned what military gear looks like and how to talk to personnel, Borggren said. Follow-up surveys showed that 75 percent of them had worked with a service member or veteran since the training.

The Families and Children’s group has also trained 626 school and community professionals – educators, administrators, school social workers – on how to better serve military children through presentations and workshops.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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