Illinois Passes Law to Increase Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care

Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed a new bill into law on July 8, 2010, that expands veterans’ services and accessibility to mental health care and coverage within the state. House Bill 6103, which won unanimous support in Illinois’ General Assembly and goes into effect immediately, exempts all Illinois veterans from being charged for services provided by any state mental health facility that are not covered under their own insurance plan.

Director Dan Grant of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs hailed the collaboration of the House and Senate members on their efforts to improve the quality, affordability, and accessibility to much needed mental health services for veterans. Since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has been experiencing complications in its efforts to diagnose and treat the influx of servicemembers arriving at their facilities with mental health problems. In recent years, the VA has seen a doubling of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury, but lacks the funding, personnel, or housing to properly assist all these servicemembers. Because its medical claims system has become overcrowded and bogged down by strict regulations, many veterans go undiagnosed and untreated for their mental illnesses. As many as 18 veterans a day in the U.S. commit suicide—representing approximately 20% of suicides that take place in the nation.

Illinois’ legislation will help alleviate this growing problem among veterans, and coincides with the VA’s mission to adequately serve every military person who has served their country. Upon the bill’s passage, Governor Quinn expressed his state government’s desire to take more responsibility in providing assistance and security to veterans who have bravely served and defended the U.S. Now, any Illinois veteran who receives treatment from a state mental health facility will not be charged for services that are not covered by the veteran’s insurance provider. Currently, veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD or traumatic brain injury are eligible to receive treatment services through state and federal government agencies.

The bill was first proposed by Representative Karen May (D) in February and gained multiple co-sponsors as the legislation made its way through the House Assembly, and also obtained sponsorship by Senator Deanna Demuzio. Passage of the bill amends the state’s existing Mental Health and Disability Code. Veterans returning from combat and in need of health care services are eligible for benefits through their state and federal VA offices. Visit www.veterans.illinois.gov for more information.

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