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'Are You a Veteran?' 311 To Ask All Callers, Offer Aid To Vets in New Push

By Ted Cox | February 27, 2016 9:53am | Updated on February 27, 2016 10:00am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel at last year's Veterans Day commemoration at Soldier Field.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel at last year's Veterans Day commemoration at Soldier Field.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expanding resources to aid veterans and is touting the gains through a new website and by appointing a director of the new Chicago Veterans Affairs Office.

"We as a city have a responsibility to help our veterans build a future that is worthy of their sacrifice," Emanuel said in a statement. "While their service can never be fully repaid, we can honor them by providing specialized resources and support for veterans and their families."

Emanuel has ordered not just that the process of getting aid to veterans be streamlined, he's actively reaching out to them by requiring 311 operators to ask callers whether they're veterans. If so, they'll be instructed on what veterans programs are available to address their needs.

 Victor LaGroon is the new director of the Chicago Veterans Affairs Office.
Victor LaGroon is the new director of the Chicago Veterans Affairs Office.
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City of Chicago

The city has already codified many benefits to veterans in housing, employment, legal assistance, business building and other support services, and the new Chicago Office of Veterans Affairs website touts itself as "a one-stop clearinghouse designed to provide assistance for better living and health services to veterans ... and their surviving spouses."

At the same time, the mayor named Victor LaGroon director of the Veterans Affairs Office.

"As a veteran myself, I know how valuable that veterans services are in supporting those of us who have served our country as they acclimate to life after military service," said LaGroon, who enlisted in the Army in 2003 and received a medical discharge 10 years ago. "In this role, I look forward to advocating on behalf of Chicago’s veterans to ensure that they have the support and resources that they need to reintegrate into society, gain meaningful employment and support their families."

Mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said the office "will coordinate veterans' services (including those in the interest of education, employment, housing and more) from citywide departments, organizations and agencies across all levels of government."

"While the administration has always addressed issues and policy on behalf of our veterans, the new Veterans Affairs Office marks the first time that the city will dedicate a full-time staffer to specialize in veterans policy, programs and engagement," Huffman said.

The mayor and the City Council have both seized on veterans benefits as an important and popular issue. Former Ald. James Balcer (11th), a former Marine and Vietnam vet, served as a powerful advocate for veterans before retiring from the council last year. The council has recently moved to take up the slack by forming a Veterans Caucus including six aldermen: Gilbert Villegas (36th), Milly Santiago (31st), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Edward Burke (14th), Danny Solis (25th) and George Cardenas (12th).

"I was extremely proud when Mayor Emanuel and my fellow aldermen immediately stepped up to support the veterans' community in this time of need," Villegas said.

"This caucus is proud to continue Ald. Balcer’s legacy, and we commend the appointment of Victor LaGroon and the launch of this website, which will increase support and services as we work to advocate for our brave service members across our city."

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