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Cashman: Deals and meals for veterans

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On Veterans Day we honor those who served in the military with parades and speeches – and business discounts.

According the the U.S. Census, there were 21.5 million military veterans in the United States in 2011, including 9.1 million veterans ages 18 to 64 in the labor force.

Scores of restaurants and companies are offering Veterans Day deals and free meals as a thank you for their service to our country.

A sampling includes free meals at Applebee's, Chili's and Olive Garden, and all-you-can eat pancakes at Denny's, free boneless chicken wings at Hooters, and a free Bloomin’ Onion and Coke at Outback Steakhouse, plus a meal discount. 

Home Depot and Lowe's offer a 10 percent discount to veterans, and many local businesses are offering free services, including car washes, hair cuts and oil changes. Drendels Corner Mobil, 13280 S. Route 47, Huntley, is offering free coffee for veterans all day today.

Kathryn’s Bridal, 3807 W. Elm St., McHenry, hosted a Brides Across America event for military brides last Wednesday. Six designer gowns were donated to military brides who came from as far away as Springfield.

Kathryn's Bridal donated 15 designer gowns to military brides in July. Military brides also get discounts on accessories, mother-of-the-bride dresses, maid-of-honor dresses, tuxedo rentals and invitations.

Nationwide, Brides Across America has donated more than 8,000 wedding gowns during the past six years. This was the fourth Brides Across America event hosted by Kathryn's Bridal.

"One of the brides had scheduled her wedding for October 2013, but recently found out her fiancé was being deployed in January," said Kathryn's Bridal owner Kathryn Trocki. "She saw our sign (for the Brides Across America event) and asked her mom, 'Could this be real?'

"People don't think that we would do this, that something like this is actually out there." Trocki said.

The couple is scheduled to be married on Jan. 5. The husband will be deployed Jan. 7.

Trocki said the reaction from the brides-to-be is "appreciative. They feel so lucky to have a free gown."

"At the same time, it's humbling for us to be able to do this and to be part of it, and be able to give back," Trocki said.

Another way to help a veteran? Buy a lottery ticket.

Veterans Cash lottery benefits military vets in Illinois. More than $10 million has been raised for veterans' organizations since the program started in 2006.

All net proceeds go to groups like The Chicago Lighthouse, a nonprofit that helps the visually impaired, including veterans. Grants have been awarded to 190 organizations, including those specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Speaking at The Chicago Lighthouse Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn said buying a ticket "was a great investment, win or lose."

He bought $20 in tickets.

Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Erica Borggren said it's a "very tangible way" to thank veterans for their service.

• Email ccashman@shawmedia.com

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