Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
— Abraham Lincoln
March 4, 1865
Ask Jake Zimmerman how he feels about the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission‘s securing of $2.1 million in new federal benefits for Kane veterans this year, and you’ll see and hear some of the passion that drives him.
“We put these folks in harms way,” he said. “Some have done 12 or 14 tours in the current wars and on 12th got hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). We shouldn’t be sending someone to war 12 different times. They deserve the benefits they get in return.
“When Lincoln set up the veterans programs after the Civil War, he said we should care for those who have borne the battle, their widows and orphans. That’s exactly what we do.”
By most conventional benchmarks, the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission has had a stellar 2014. Zimmerman shared some of that information Tuesday in his 2014 annual report to the Kane County Board Human Services Committee.
Kane County’s VA Commission so far in 2014 has secured more than $2.1 million in new federal benefits for Kane County veterans. It has filed 1,682 forms this year, a 129 percent increase over the number of claims it filed in 2013. It has a 76 percent benefits-approval rate, and its processing times are off-the-charts above Chicago-area and national averages.
The average wait time for Chicago Veterans Administration Regional Office help in Illinois is 270.3 days as of Dec. 15. For Kane County veterans, it’s 184.5 days.
“There’s a big backlog,” Zimmerman said. “But because we file every day, we save veterans almost 100 days on average by filing claims through us — and they’re saving the headache of not dealing with the bureaucracy. We’re here to cut that red tape.”
New Human Services Committee Chair Bill Lenert said Tuesday that statistic stood out when he reviewed the annual report.
“I was very impressed with your processing time,” he said.
Zimmerman said about 30 percent of the veterans seeking help in Kane County served in the two most-recent conflicts — Operation Enduring Freedom in Afganastan and Operation Iraqi in Iraq. About 50 percent of the beneficiaries served during the Vietnam War.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that (Vietnam veterans) are reaching retirement age, and that Agent Orange still has a profound affect on people’s health,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the commission has worked hard in the past year to increase the number of participants as well as the amount of benefits veterans receive.
“We did a lot of outreach in the past year to make sure people are aware of the benefits,” he said. “I think that’s a big reason why our numbers are up.”
The Kane County VA functions with only about $303,000 in property-tax dollars each year.
“That is a return to the community of $6.93 for every dollar of revenue received by the commission in property taxes,” Zimmerman said in the 2014 report. “That figure does not take into account savings in health care expenses by providing access to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System or savings in student loan debt by assisting veterans in applying for their education benefits.”
According to the “At a Glance” portion of the report, Kane County veterans received $31,056,729 in annual VA compensation and pension expenditures in 2014.
“As it pertains to the American taxpayer, the money we secure from the VA for our veterans is part of the ‘cost of freedom,’ ” Zimmerman said. “That is something that is often overlooked in the cost of war.”
Zimmerman said that he hope the one piece of information veterans and citizens take from this article is that veterans know that the Kane County VA Commission is here, and “the majority of what we do is helping peiople get federal benefits.”
“It’s rewarding for us,” Zimmerman said. “We have a good staff; they’re all veterns, and they just want to help out their brothers and sisters. Some of these folks are too disabled to work. They need jobs, education, healthcare. That’s why we come into work every day.”
Kane County Veterans at a Glance
- 25,274 veterans reside in Kane County
- $31,056,729 in annual VA Compensation & Pension expenditures for veterans in Kane County
- 4,289 Kane County veterans enrolled in VA Health Care
- $34,877,460 in annual VA Health Care Expenditures for Kane County veterans
- $76,941,684 in total annual VA expenditures for Kane County