On occasion everyone needs a helping hand even if it’s short term. Most of us will typically seek out a relative, friend, neighbor or even a co-worker. For veterans, there is one other place they can turn to for the occasional helping hand and that place is the Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County.
The Veterans Assistance Commission (VAC) is a program established through Illinois statutes. Each county in the state has the right to set up a VAC. Each county funds their respective VAC. Presently, there are 41 counties that have a VAC in the state—some larger than others depending on the number of veterans they serve. With 102 counties, Cook County is the largest. Cook serves approximately 270,00 veterans.
Whether the veteran is indigent, homeless, someone that was doing well and then loses his or her job, experience tragedy, or health issues the VAC will help. They are tasked with helping veterans when they run into hard times. The only challenge is that the VAC can only help them one time.
The Interim Superintendent of Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County, John Steciw, was a recent guest on the America’s Heroes Group live broadcast with Vietnam Veteran and radio personality talk show host Cliff Kelley, and other panelists to discuss the many services offered by the VAC.
Working with military personnel for Steciw began during the Vietnam War when he served in the army as a Drill Sergeant in 1967 and 1968. It was his job to assist in a soldier’s transformation from a civilian mindset into a military one.
He was one of the soldiers who wore the “Smokey the Bear Hat.” The program Steciw said, “…was quite an experience and I grew up real fast and learned a lot.”
Located in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center at 1100 S. Hamilton in Chicago on the concourse level, the VAC office is in close proximity to the Jesse Brown VA and the Veterans Administration office.
The type of assistance the program provides is paying rent, electric, gas, water, food and transportation. VAC purchases various types of public transportation passes including CTA passes, Pace Bus Cards, and Metra passes to provide emergency transportation.
Long term transportation needs will be met in instances where a veteran may be working with a Social Worker at the Jesse Brown or Hines Hospital and they may have a need for coming into a medical facility on a regular basis because they are receiving a certain type of treatment.
There are certain guideline to qualify for assistance including being honorably discharged, completing certain documentation, and providing their DD-214. In addition, a minimum of 6-months of active duty and recently veterans who served in the Reserves and National Guards became eligible for benefits under the VAC. Once they have everything in place they are interviewed. Steciw said it is their practice to “serve first, not just to turn veterans away.”
Rochell Crump said, “We also still cover uniforms, boots and clothing for new jobs. Veterans that are 50 percent disabled also are provided monthly passes. The state provides a pass for seniors to ride free and we often start the process for veterans in our offices. The helping hand is provided only one time per issue.
Rochelle Crump, who is the president of National Women Veterans United and also a panelist on the show provided more insight into the “one time.” Crump said, “It’s a one time for each one of those instances so if you receive assistance for your lights, you can still return for assistance on your rent.”