While many of us assume veterans have access to health care through the Veterans Administration, it’s often not the case.
“Most people assume the VA is health insurance,” Joe Franzese of Illinois Warriors to Warriors tells The Gate . “It’s not. You might have access to some health services, depending on how, when and where you served.” Even for veterans who are eligible, care is not necessarily available, timely, or free.
An analysis by Health and Disability Advocates  shows that many veterans are uninsured, with rates as high as 30 percent in communities like Austin on the West Side. Overall the group estimates that 40,000 Illinois veterans are uninsured.
About a third of the state’s veterans have incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, according to an AP report on the HDA study . The state legislature approved an expansion of Medicaid under the ACA in May.
HDA runs the Illinois Warrior to Warrior  program, in which veteran volunteers help other veterans connect with health services and get help with issues ranging from employment to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma.
Franzese is “like my personal angel,” says one veteran, who tells the Gate of his struggles to get services for physical and emotional issues that led to several suicide attempts. Now he’s in a veterans support group, and Franzese is helping him look for work.
“It’s a complete 360,” he says. “I’m happy now. My home life is better. It gets me out of my own bubble, just picking up the pieces.”
For more: Listen to Franzese and HDA executive director Barbara Otto discuss veterans’ health care on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift