The Crusader Newspaper Group

The Chicago Heights VA program cuts generate community concern

veteran suicide

After hearing about the treatment of Veterans at the Chicago Heights Vet Center, Representative Robin Kelly (D-2nd) has expressed concern and is looking into the matter to determine next steps for hundreds of men and women that supporters say are being denied VA program services.

Kelly is aware of the numerous complaints lodged mostly by Vietnam Veterans, who last week told the  Chicago Crusader that Director Elizabeth Martinez, who is not a Veteran, allegedly cut several programs critical to their mental health, including Music Therapy, Anger Management, Marriage & Family Counseling, Couples Counseling, Suicide Prevention, and the Combat Women’s Group.

After Susan Wills, spokesperson for the “Victorious Enlightened Team” of Veteran’s wives, told the Chicago Crusader about the treatment of Veterans, VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes launched an investigation into the allegations, saying the VA takes “allegations of wrongdoing…seriously.”

And so does Dr. Damon Arnold, former director of the Illinois Public Health Department, and former State Surgeon for the Illinois National Guard. Arnold, a Veteran of 26 years, served two tours in Iraq from 2004-2007.

Upset about the cuts made at the Chicago Heights Vet Center, Arnold told the Chicago Crusader, “Those programs are vital to veterans. They are lifesaving programs that should never have been cut.”

Referring to the cancellation of the Suicide Prevention program, Arnold said, “These are lifesaving programs that assist veterans to have a normal life. It’s for family structure, relations, and many times Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) directly impacts their relationships. It can all fall apart if they don’t have that kind of accessibility to therapy.”

Arnold said the cuts made at the Chicago Heights Vet Center “are a step backwards into the dark ages.” 

The suicide rate among Veterans is still high. He referred to the 2023 National Veterans Suicide Prevention annual report that concluded in 2021, 6,392 veterans died by suicide, an increase of 114 suicides from 2020.

“When looking at increases in rates from 2020 to 2021, the age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate among Veterans increased by 11.6 percent, while the age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate among non-Veteran U.S. adults increased by 4.5 percent,” according to the report.

“Veterans remain at elevated risk for suicide. These numbers are more than statistics — they reflect Veterans’ lives prematurely ended, which continue to be grieved by family members, loved ones and the nation. One Veteran suicide is one too many. In this report we reflect on the context of 2021 and the themes of data, which will drive us toward further action for our work together in the mission of suicide prevention,” the report stated.

“I think it is crazy to get rid of programs that are focused on things that stabilize Veterans’ lives. I can’t perceive what is going on there.” He welcomes the investigations into these allegations.

Joining Arnold was Chief Apostle William McCoy, whose church and home are in Chicago Heights. He also voiced concern about the “abuse” of Veterans allegedly by Martinez. “Those are a lot of cuts to the Veterans,” McCoy said. He called Martinez’ alleged actions “insensitive” and “abusive.”

“These programs help the Veterans regroup back into society,” he said. “By cutting them, you are making it hard for them. These programs are survival skills, safety nets for the Veterans. She made some judgment calls without realizing these programs are needed by the Veterans. I know she is not a Veteran, but she should have more empathy.

“I know everybody needs a job,” he said. “Perhaps she should take a vacation and regroup because we got to protect our Veterans. We owe it to them. They went over there to Vietnam to protect us,” said McCoy, a consultant for Bloom Township and pastor of the Brothers Keepers Outreach Church.

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