While the nation focused on those veterans who died during military service on Monday, local veteran leaders Gerry Brandt, commander of the American Legion John Joda Post 54 in Fairbury, and Keith Jeffries, commander of Fairbury Post 9789, say it’s important to remember the plight of those veterans who are still living, too.
    According to Brandt and Jeffries, the greatest issue facing veterans today is qualifying for Department of Veterans’ Affairs health insurance coverage. Brandt said his son, Greg, who is a disabled Army veteran, has had trouble getting his paperwork approved by the VA.
    “That’s just a system-wide issue, but I understand that the president is trying to get some action in place where the military disability transfers over to the VA disability,” Brandt said. “That would be a major deal if they can get that done. It’s been one of his biggest problems because, when my son was disabled out of the Army during training, the VA didn’t take the disability insurance.”
    Locally, Brandt, who served in the Army from 1969 to 1972, said the Fairbury Legion post has a member of the veterans assistance commission that regularly attends the Livingston County Veterans Assistance meetings in Pontiac. The Legion also offers transportation to the veterans hospitals and some assistance for veterans who are facing rent or food-related issues.
    “We’re providing all the help that we can locally,” Brandt said, “but getting proper health coverage is probably the biggest issue that most veterans face today.”
    Jeffries, who served in the Marine Corps from 1985-1993, explained that once a soldier finishes his service, the medical coverage through the armed forces goes away. Once a soldier becomes a veteran, the insurance is intended to be covered by the VA, but Jeffries said sometimes it’s not easy to get VA coverage.
    “Just getting that paperwork to transfer over is a very slow process unless you’re really sick or injured,” Jeffries said. “The other problem is, you have to go to a VA hospital for service and there isn’t  a VA hospital close by for everybody. We’re OK here because we have hospitals in Peoria and Danville, but it would be nice if we could just go to a local hospital and have it covered.”
    While some people might think that VA Health Insurance is accepted at any hospital in the area,  Jeffries said that is not the case.
    “You want to be able to go to the family doctor where your kids go and your wife goes,” Jeffries said. “Unfortunately, you have to go to a VA Hospital. Fortunately, we offer transportation assistance and we’re pretty well-covered in this area. But, from the aspect of having insurance and being able to go to a local hospital, this is the biggest issue impacting veterans today.”
    Like Brandt, Jeffries hopes that President Donald Trump will be able to help veterans get better medical coverage.
    “From what I know, they are trying to make it so that the VA insurance is accepted by more local healthcare facilities,” Jeffries said. “That’s a move in the right direction.”