Surrounded by veterans and other elected officials, Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton announced the formation of the bipartisan Serving Illinois’ Heroes Committee to focus on veterans’ issues.
The announcement came during a news conference Monday at Waubonsee Community College’s downtown Aurora campus.
The committee, composed of 19 veterans, is the second of several working groups to be announced by the Pritzker administration that feature experts in a variety of subjects – in this case, veterans’ affairs – intended to advise and guide the incoming administration.
Pritzker told reporters he believes it is “our obligation; it’s our duty” to stand up for veterans in the U.S.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for our veterans, and I know that together, we will,” Pritzker said. “We have a real commitment in the state of Illinois to live up to, and as governor, I’m going to make sure that happens.”
“As chair of the transition, my top priority is making sure that our administration is responsive and ready to be responsive to the needs of every Illinoisan. Today, we are observing veterans and honoring our veterans,” Stratton said. “And what better way to honor the men and women who served our country than to be ready to serve them on Day 1 of our administration?”
Officials discussed some of the topics that are expected to be addressed by the committee.
“It’s time to make sure that our veterans can afford higher education when they return home, that they can build economic opportunity, have access to safe and affordable housing, and make sure they have access to health care. These are priorities that J.B. and I really believe are important, and things that we will work very hard to see happen,” Stratton said. “Our veterans bravely served us overseas, and it’s time that we had their backs.”
The committee will be led by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Secretary of State Jesse White and retiring state Rep. David Harris, R-Mount Prospect.
Duckworth, who was not in attendance at the news conference, released a statement that read in part, “I know Gov.-elect Pritzker’s administration will be an important partner in our work to truly support and repay the sacrifices of our veterans and our troops in harm’s way, and I’m honored to co-chair the new administration’s Veterans Transition Committee.”
White added: “Our veterans have served us with honor and distinction, so we must reciprocate; show love and respect for them, as well.”
White served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and in the National Guard.
“The governor, as the chief executive officer of the state of Illinois, has the responsibility to make our nation’s heroes have the tools they need to live with dignity. Taking care of our veterans is not a partisan issue,” he said.
“I’m really proud to stand here today with all of my fellow veterans who have worn the uniform of this country,” Harris said.
Harris, who served as commanding general of the Illinois Army and Air National Guard, said it is heartwarming to see Pritzker and Stratton establish a transition team with a veterans committee to look at ways to improve services for veterans.
“Services for veterans are not a partisan issue. It’s not a Republican agenda; it’s not a Democratic agenda. There is no agenda to helping a veteran get a job; there is no partisan agenda to helping a veteran get an education, to get a home – a proper home – or to get access to the mental health care that that veteran may very well need. The only agenda is making sure our veterans ... are properly served as Illinois moves forward,” Harris said.
The committee also will include state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park; state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora; state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego; Deputy State Treasurer Rodrigo Garcia; Eli Williamson, co-founder of Leave No Veteran Behind; and Todd Connor, the CEO and founder of Bunker Labs.