Mt. Vernon Register-News


April 9, 2010

Senator Durbin speaks with veterans

MT. VERNON — Illinois Senator Richard J. Durbin made a stop in Mt. Vernon Thursday to monitor veterans services and to see the newly opened I-57 exit at Veterans Memorial Drive.

Durbin, who was elected to the Senate in 1996 and reelected in 2002, spoke with veterans, doctors and staff at the Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Center in Mt. Vernon.

Veterans who talked with Durbin at the center asked if the recently passed health care reform bill would have an effect on their coverage and care at VA facilities.

Durbin said there would be no reduction in services to veterans.

“Rather than that, we are looking to expand,” he said. “There are new veterans with new issues, and we want to be ready to help.”

He mentioned the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and said because of the need for medical professionals and social workers he could foresee no cutbacks in terms of benefits for veterans.

Many veterans ask about the level of care at the Marion VA when they have a chance to speak with the senator, Durbin said.

“It’s important because it’s close to home that it has the best care,” he said. “The news I have is that things are improving. I told them I’m confident they can expect the best care.”

Roger McBride, a McLeansboro resident and Vietnam veteran, had an opportunity to speak with the senator during his visit at the Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Center, the fifth stop in the senator’s day.

“I came out to see the senator and ask about my rights,” McBride said.

Durbin said he came to visit the outpatient center because it is part of the Marion VA Medical Center.

“I’m personally involved with the VA, and while they have gone through some difficult times, the news from there is very encouraging,” Durbin said.

In 2007, the Marion VA Medical Center closed its surgery unit after a “large number of unexpected deaths,” said Marion VA public affairs officer Peggy Willoughby.

One surgeon was found to be the “biggest reason” for the deaths, Willoughby said, and was later found to have surrendered his license in another state.

The Marion VA has tightened its hiring processes to be more stringent than other VA centers and even some private hospitals, she said.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel like we’re moving forward,” Durbin said.

The Marion VA serves as many as 43,000 veterans in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, Willoughby said.

Durbin also visited the recently completed  I-57 exit at Veterans Memorial Drive, a project the senator had been supporting for about a decade, said John Normoyle, Durbin’s press secretary.

Durbin visited the exit with Mt. Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley.

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