Veterans seek answers at forum with U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren

Protesters stand in silence outside

GENEVA – American Legion Fox River Geneva Post 75 was host to more than 80 veterans Friday, who packed the hall’s meeting room so a panel of experts could hear their concerns.

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, Dr. Steve Braverman, director of the Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital and Hughes Turner, executive director of the VA Regional Office in Chicago, fielded questions for more than an hour. The Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission hosted the event.

One concern that veterans have is long travel times to get to Veterans Administration hospitals, as explained by Todd Latham, commander of VFW Post 1486 in Sandwich.

Latham said the trip to Hines is an hour and a half one way.

“I found it very difficult to get vets in there to receive their care,” Latham said. “It takes several hours to receive their care, and then drive an hour and a half home. To me, that is unacceptable.”

Latham said a mobile unit in North Aurora is closer, but the care available is limited.

Braverman said that Hines was in the process of being upgraded on several levels, from facade improvements – as portions of the brick were falling down – to upgrades to the boiler. It’s also getting a new MRI facility.

“We are committed, as best as we can, to get the services, equipment and facilities for what your service has earned you the right to have,” Hultgren said.

To another question about allowing veterans the right to go to “regular” doctors for care instead of traveling to Hines, Hultgren said he could see the process opened up for them to see any doctor.

“I think there is a big group of us who support that, but not enough,” Hultgren said. “My hope is we will get there … [and] allow our veterans to go where they want to go.”

Tammy Anderson, superintendent of DeKalb County Veterans Assistance, asked what is being done to address notices of disagreement that are filed when veterans’ claims are denied.

“If we file a notice of disagreement on a veteran claim, it’s three years,” Anderson said. “We’re looking at 2020.”

Turner said the reality was there is a backlog, and – at the moment – claims from 2014 are currently being dealt with.

“We are trying to address that by modernizing the appeals process,” Turner said. “That is the best answer I can give you.”

While the veterans were meeting at the Legion Hall, about 60 protesters from Indivisible Kane County and other groups stood in silence across the street on the sidewalk in front of the Geneva Public Library.

Members of the group have sought a town hall with Hultgren at various recent protests. They said, this time, they would be silent out of respect for the veterans.

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