NEAR WEST SIDE — The mayor joined top politicians in cheering the opening of a veterans treatment center at Rush University Medical Center Friday.
The Road Home Program will tend specifically to the health issues faced by veterans and their families.
"Some of the statistics are staggering," said Larry Goodman, chief executive officer of the medical center and president of Rush University.
Of all veterans over that time span, about one-third suffer from a mental-health condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or a traumatic brain injury, he said.
Of the 2.5 million U.S. veterans who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, Goodman said more than 75,000 were Illinois citizens.
Rush's Road Home Program, created with the help of state and federal Veterans Affairs agencies and Welcome Back Veterans — an initiative sponsored by Major League Baseball and the McCormick Foundation — is intended to address those specific veterans' health concerns.
"For those of us who've made it home, it's our requirement, our job, our duty to make sure we take care of our buddies in the name of those who didn't make it home," said U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates), a veteran who lost her legs in combat in Iraq in 2004 and went on to be elected to Congress in 2012.
"It's not just the veterans who serve, but the families serve as well," Duckworth added. She applauded how the center will also treat veterans' families and the "undiagnosed post-traumatic stress of our family members."
Duckworth said it had to be part of a comprehensive program to aid veterans economically, physically and socially in their return home. "It's not just about providing quality health care, but the comprehensive care for all our military men and women, our veterans, and their family members," she added. "This should be a priority for everyone."
"The journey home is not when you get off the plane," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "This is where the journey begins. And that is where we want to pick up, when you get off that plane.
"We must repay the favor you did for us," Emanuel added.
Emanuel sought to redefine the so-called top 1 percent in U.S. society.
"We have an all-volunteer armed forces," he said. "It represents 1 percent of the nation. The best of the best are the people who serve in our armed forces and the veterans who have done that."
Duckworth emphasized that medical care needs to be adapted to the needs of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Vietnam. "They are the ones who taught the country to love the warriors even if you don't love the war, and I thank them for that," Duckworth said.
Veterans have been in the news this week, as the City Council has taken up the problem of veterans committing suicide. Goodman echoed statistics showing that, on average, 22 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day. He said, since 2001, more have died from suicide than in combat.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago) joined in praising the opening of the new Road Home Program on the Rush medical campus at 1645 W. Jackson Blvd.