Resource Spotlight

Additions to the following mini-profiles will be made each week. Click on the highlighted names of the resources at the top of the profile to visit their websites.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Veterans Crisis Line
If a Veteran is experiencing a crisis, they can call the Veteran Crisis Center at 800-273-8255 and press 1. The service is toll-free and operates 24 hours a day. There is also the National Center of Excellence for Veterans and their Families at RUSH. Located at the RUSH Medical Center, their ROAD Home Program provides comprehensive, evidence-based treatment in a safe and supportive environment. These services are provided in Chicago, the western suburbs and downstate Effingham. A three-week National Intensive Outpatient Program is also available for the treatment of post-traumatic stress.  These services are provided regardless of military discharge status or your ability to pay.
— CDR Joe Troiani, U.S. Navy (retired)

Vet Centers
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has been running Vet Centers since 1979. These community-based counseling centers provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling to eligible Veterans and active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families. Vet Centers are staffed by counselors and outreach personnel, many of whom are Veterans themselves. They are experienced and prepared to discuss loss, grief, the tragedies of war and transition after trauma. Individual, group, marriage and family counseling are offered in addition to referral and connection to other VA or community benefits and services. The Vet Centers provide free and confidential counseling and services to all Veterans. A Veteran’s problem does not need to be service-connected and they may be able to receive care even if they are not eligible for other VA services.
— Joseph E. Troiani, Ph.D., Commander, U.S. Navy (retired)

VA Podcasts
There are a number of podcasts available for veterans, and the VA Podcast Network is a great place to begin. The VA Podcast Network focuses on informative, news-related, interview-style shows that share stories and spotlight resources and benefits available to veterans. The network’s seven podcasts to date cover a variety of themes, including the challenges that veterans face after their service to recent innovations at VA hospitals. Each episode of the “My Life, My Story,” podcast, for example, tells the stories of VA hospital patients, such as Korean War veteran Daniel, who was a prisoner of war in Korea for an astonishing 38 months.
— James Scalzitti

ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
Navigating the complex web of services and benefits available to veterans can be daunting, but the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs is there to help. The IDVA runs a network of offices across the state staffed by Veteran Service Officers who are experts on federal, state and local resources. VSOs, many of whom are veterans themselves, are trained and accredited by the VA to provide free assistance to veterans and their dependents and survivors. This includes providing assistance with applications for benefits and information regarding compensation and pension, healthcare, employment, education, burial, housing, military records, and more.
— James Scalzitti

ADVOCACY

Coalition of Veterans Organizations
The Coalition of Veterans Organizations advocates on behalf of Veterans on a variety of fronts. Membership is open to organizations and individuals. Their priorities include expanded health care services; mental, dental and vision care for all Veterans; and ending limits on benefits like the priority system, means test and co-pays. The organization also works to end Veteran homelessness while bridging the gap that prevents women from accessing gender-specific care and services. The CVO website acts as a clearinghouse for information, including benefits updates, job availability, upcoming events, resources and publications.
— Felicia Reilly

ANIMAL SERVICES

Dog T.A.G.S.
Dog T.A.G.S. is more than a training program for Veterans with service dogs. It was founded by Veterans who themselves were suffering from service-connected PTSD and who knew the need for a program like this to help other Veterans with PTSD and/or Traumatic Brain Injury heal. In weekly meetings in a group setting, Veterans can share their thoughts with a social worker, and then train their personal dogs with the help of experienced and qualified instructors. Dog T.A.G.S. (Train Assist Guide Serve) has worked with Veterans who served in conflicts ranging from Vietnam to present day Iraq and Afghanistan.
— James Scalzitti

K9s For Warriors
K9s for Warriors rescues and trains shelter dogs to be paired with veterans with service-connected PTSD, traumatic brain injury and/or sexual trauma. The organization accepts applications from veterans and active-duty service members from all 50 states. Veterans stay at one of the group’s residential training facilities in Florida for a 21-day canine training program. The service dog as well as the training, certification, legal instruction and a lifetime of wraparound services are provided to the veteran free of charge.
— James Scalzitti

Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry
The Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry visits VFWs, VA Hospitals, care centers and the residences of the homebound with trained dogs who provide comfort and stress-relief to veterans and active military members. Part of Lutheran Church Charities, the ministry does not charge for its services. Veterans organizations, individuals, schools and other groups can request an in-person visit from the LCC Kare 9 dogs and their handlers, and virtual visits are also available.
— James Scalzitti

Operation Horses and Heroes
Operation Horses and Heroes is a free, intensive, multi-day Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program that helps Veterans with post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and other issues reintegrate into civilian life. The program includes a variety of activities ranging from simple horse care and grooming to intensive therapy sessions with the horses. It also provides opportunities to bond with others who have had similar experiences in their military careers. The organization has program locations in Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa and Kentucky.
— Felicia Reilly

Pets for Vets Chicagoland
Pets for Vets Chicagoland is devoted to creating second chances. The organization believes that Veterans — especially those living with injury or trauma — and rescue animals both get a second chance when they’re thoughtfully and carefully matched. When Veterans apply, Pets for Vets reaches out to get to know them better. Then they “interview” their pets to determine which is best suited for each Vet. The organization has 30 chapters nationwide, with the Chicagoland Chapter covering Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will counties. The program is open to any US Veteran who lives in a chapter area, is able to take care of a pet and could benefit from having one.
— James Scalzitti

Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation Pets and Vets
In 1991, then-Oakland A’s manager Tony LaRussa and his wife Elaine founded ARF to rescue dogs and cats before they ran out of time at high-kill shelters. ARF initiated its Pets and Vets program in 2011, offering free dog and cat adoptions for military Veterans. The Pets and Vets program now also transforms rescue dogs into skilled service animals for Veterans. More than 50 service animals have graduated from Pets and Vets training, and even more emotional support animals are providing love and comfort to scores of Veteran companions. ARF’s new 7,900-square-foot headquarters for Pets and Vets is scheduled to open in 2021.
— James Scalzitti

DISCOUNTS

Chicago Clerk (No Fee Vehicle Stickers)
Veterans who live in Chicago can get one free city vehicle sticker from the City Clerk’s Office. The stickers are valid for a passenger or large passenger vehicle or motorbike. You must have a current Illinois Driver’s License or State ID with a Veteran designation to be eligible. Veterans must go to a City Clerk location to get these stickers: They’re not available online or by mail. There will be no refunds for already issued stickers; eligible Veterans will qualify when their sticker is up for renewal. Annual Residential Zone Parking may be added for $25 if the purchaser resides in a Residential Parking Zone.
— James Scalzitti
For a downloadable PDF, click here.

CouponFollow Military Discount Guide
CouponFollow’s Interactive Military Discount Guide helps US military and veterans find available savings and rewards programs for more than 315 online websites and retail stores. Discounts range from 10-50 percent off for online and in-store purchases, as well as freebies and upgrades. Discounts can be searched by categories like auto, business and services, education, entertainment and sports, food and dining, retail, tech and travel. Or you can scroll down and browse through a wide range of offerings from AARP, Carnival Cruise Lines, Foot Locker,  LasikPlus, Nationwide Insurance, Sprint and Wendy’s.

Veterans Canteen Service
Veterans Canteen Service is a self-sustaining part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its mission is to provide Veterans enrolled in the VA’s health care system, their families and caregivers, VA employees, volunteers and visitors with reasonably priced merchandise and services. VCS members can access exclusive deals on hundreds of premium brands in categories such as apparel, footwear, prescription eyewear, tires, travel and entertainment tickets and electronics. There are locations at VA benefits offices nationwide. Online shopping is also available. Similar to the military exchange system, a portion of proceeds at the canteens goes back into services for Veterans.
— James Scalzitti

EDUCATION & TRAINING

Café Liberty
Café Liberty assists veterans who are unemployed or underemployed and looking to enter the culinary field. This program professionally trains participants for a lifetime career in the food service industry and can serve as a bridge to an advanced culinary institution. The 11-week program at Café Liberty’s Wheaton training facility is offered up to four times per year with between eight and 10 participants in each class. Adult family members of veterans are also accepted into the program. Classes are temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, but applications are being accepted for future classes.
— James Scalzitti

University of North Dakota
Veterans who specialized in information technology are natural fits for the roughly 3.5 million unfilled cyber security jobs in the United States. The tough part is getting started in the field and finding the right IT position. Through its online Master’s in Cyber Security program, the University of North Dakota can help Veterans get a grasp on the cyber security career path. The university offers cyber security education and training resources specifically for Veterans. The program addresses cyber security basics as well as potential jobs and careers in the field. Veterans will then learn how to start a cyber security career, and identify the certifications that can help them advance through cyber security ranks.
— James Scalzitti

FINANCIAL

Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Veterans Foundation
The Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Veterans Foundation raises funds through individual donations and sponsorships to support organizations that assist Veterans in need. Foundation grants are deployed in three ways: to help Veterans who are in need of home repair, one-time housecleaning and/or waste removal; to provide direct financial assistance to Veterans and their families, and to conduct events or programs that address issues related to the Veteran community. In addition, the foundation works closely with partner organizations in developing programs and opportunities for Veterans in need.

HEALTH & WELL-BEING

Guitars for Vets
Veterans afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are finding hope in an unlikely place: behind the wood and strings of an acoustic guitar. Rooted in the healing power of music, Guitars for Vets provides veterans with guitars and a forum to learn how to play. Through the teamwork and camaraderie of G4V, veterans can join a community where they learn to play guitar and find solace in the songs they love as well as those they have yet to write. Monthly group sessions are organized at each of G4V’s many local chapters to provide Veterans with a communal atmosphere to talk and play music with peers who have shared similar experiences.
— James Scalzitti

Illinois Chess Vets
Studies have shown that playing chess has many ancillary benefits including working both sides of the brain, keeping players intellectually limber, and helping stave off dementia. The members of Illinois Chess Vets understand that, and strive to improve opportunities for veterans and others to learn, play and enjoy the game. The group hosts weekly meetings and offers Veterans’ discounts for chess tournaments. They bring the game to VA hospitals, where they focus on patients with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, and support the formation of chess clubs by Veterans’ organizations. A long-term goal is to host a Veterans Cup chess competition.
— James Scalzitti

Make the Connection
No matter when, where or how you served, or what you’ve experienced in military or civilian life, you may be facing challenges that affect your health, relationships, and life. Whether your military role ended two decades ago or two days ago, you share with Veterans everywhere the common bonds of duty, honor and service to our nation. MakeTheConnection.net is an online resource designed to connect Veterans and their family members, friends and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions that allow them to better address the issues that confront them. By enabling contact with other Veterans who have faced challenges and found paths to recovery, Make the Connection shows Veterans that they are not alone and that effective help is available.
— Megan Mayberry

Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center
The Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center provides mental health care to veterans, service members and their families. Veterans of all eras, regardless of discharge status, are eligible at no cost. Virtual and in-person outpatient services are available, including treatment of PTSD, military sexual trauma, mental health challenges and family programming. We also offer support groups. Our program strives to empower veterans by focusing on immediate symptom reduction, long-term recovery and permanent lifestyle changes. Our mission is to provide clients with the skills and tools needed to build healthy, meaningful relationships and productive lives.
— James Scalzitti

The Way Back Inn and Grateful House
The Way Back Inn and Grateful House serve adult men and women who are suffering from alcohol, drug and gambling dependence. The overall goal is to help clients achieve continuous sobriety. Every client is treated with dignity and respect. Their mission is to rebuild lives damaged by addiction in a personalized healing environment in which men and women’s lives are transformed and relationships are healed. The recovery program focuses on the integration of the body, mind and spirit. Their Military Veterans Recovery Program offers outpatient treatment through both individual, group, family and 12-step sessions; residential care at facilities in Maywood as well as Oak Park, Melrose Park and Forest Park; and DUI Risk Evaluation and Education. The Way Back Inn and Grateful House is located at 104 Oak St. in Maywood.
— Joseph E. Troiani, Ph.D., Commander, U.S. Navy (Retired)

HOUSING

Fisher House
When a Veteran or service member receives medical treatment at a military or VA medical center, they’re often accompanied and visited by their families. But when the hospital is far from home, where do their families stay? Hotels can be costly, and don’t always have the most comforting atmosphere. Responding to that need, Zachary Fisher built the first Fisher House. The Fisher family and Fisher House Foundation have built nearly 100 Fisher Houses around the world at military and VA medical centers. These facilities provide the families of military personnel and Veterans with a home away from home where they can stay, free of charge, while a loved one is in the hospital. They’re usually within walking distance of the treatment facility, and are designed to feel like home, with common kitchens, laundry facilities, living and dining rooms, and toys for children.
— James Scalzitti

Hines Fisher House
Hines Fisher House has accommodated more than 3,000 guests since it opened its doors on March 1, 2010. It contains 20 bedroom suites, a fully-stocked kitchen, a spacious dining room, and several common living room areas for families to gather while their loved ones are hospitalized at Hines. The Hines Fisher House depends on donations of goods and supplies from individuals and groups to support its programs and guests.

Purple Heart Homes
Purple Heart Homes provides housing solutions for service-connected disabled and aging veterans. The charity assists Veterans through monetary donations and the efforts of volunteers from the building trades who donate materials and services.  Purple Heart offers two programs, Veterans Aging in Place, which provides modifications, renovations and repairs to existing homes, and the Veterans Home Ownership Program, which helps veterans buy homes. While Veterans put up some money to participate in these programs, loans and grants are available for assistance. A Purple Heart is not required to participate in either program, but Veterans must have at least a 10 percent service-connected disability rating from the VA to participate.
— Felicia Reilly

LEGAL AID

Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN)
The Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN) operates a statewide legal assistance hotline and coordinates a network of legal support services at no charge to military personnel, veterans and their families. Member organizations include Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, the John Marshall Law School and Legal Aid Chicago. Affiliated organizations include Catholic Charities, the Legal Aid Society and the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing. To speak to an IL-AFLAN attorney, call 855-452-3526. Make sure to have the necessary documents when you call.  Wait times average five minutes and won’t exceed 10.
— James Scalzitti

Veterans’ Legal Aid Society
The Veterans’ Legal Aid Society offers Illinois veterans and their families who are below poverty level equal access to justice. VLAS provides pro-bono help for veterans filing VA pension applications and appeals and has a referral network of qualified attorneys in various areas of law. VLAS supports veteran’s legal aid programs and assists in the management of an OBRA Trust to benefit qualified candidates. Assistance applications and more information are available online.

MEDAL OF HONOR

Father Capodanno Guild
There are chapels, streets and buildings in the U.S. and Italy named for the Rev. Vincent R. Capodanno, MM, not to mention a U.S. Navy ship. A Navy chaplain, Fr. Capodanno was killed in action during the Vietnam War while anointing and aiding U.S. Marines in combat with the North Vietnamese army. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969, and a campaign has been launched to have Fr. Capodanno recognized as a saint. The Father Vincent Capodanno Guild, a private Catholic Church association and non-profit corporation, promotes the Cause for Canonization of Fr. Capodanno and celebrates his life. A biography of Fr. Capodanno and holy cards are available at the site, along with a schedule of events and donation options.
— James Scalzitti
For a profile of Fr. Capodanno, click here.

MUSEUMS

American Battlefield Trust
The American Battlefield Trust works to preserve U.S. battlefields from the colonial days through the Civil War. These historic grounds are increasingly threatened by development, erosion, neglect and ignorance of the sites’ importance. The Trust engages in historical presentations to the public, history teachers and students, and operates a publishing program that includes a magazine, educator resources, Civil War curriculum and detailed maps of the battlefields. Their website explores key battles, lists heritage sites that can be visited and offers virtual tours of battlefields.
— Felicia Reilly

SALUTES

Bugles Across America
Some 20 years ago, Congress passed legislation that saw to it that deceased Veterans would have at least two uniformed military personnel to fold the flag and play a recorded version of Taps at their funerals. Wanting to take that a step further, Tom Day founded Bugles Across America to provide live Taps free of charge for every deceased Veteran. The organization now has more than 4,000 volunteer buglers in all 50 states. But with more than a half-million Veterans expected to pass away every year for the next seven years, new buglers are needed to swell the ranks.
— James Scalzitti

Honor Flight Chicago
Honor Flight Chicago hasn’t flown a veteran to Washington, D.C. since early 2020, but the group has kept busy. They created yard signs and window decals publicly thanking our Veterans, and hundreds of volunteers made safe, socially distant hand deliveries to more than 4,000 homes. And Honor Flight Chicago WILL fly again. As soon as protocols allow, the organization will return to honoring America’s senior Veterans with all-expense paid, one-of-a-kind journeys to the nation’s capital for a day of thanks and inspiration. In addition to the flights, HFC works to keep the stories of the sacrifices and experiences of our Veterans strong by sharing their memories via podcast, in their video library, and on their website.
— James Scalzitti

True Patriots Care
True Patriots Care recognizes and supports those who have served their communities as first responders and members of the military through the installation of flag tributes and the presentation of honor walls. Past tributes have honored Silver and Gold Star recipients, World War II and Korean War veterans, and victims of the 9/11 attacks. The organization strives to unite communities, promote awareness of the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes, and help hearts heal.
— James Scalzitti

Wreaths Across America
Every year on Dec. 18, Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 2,100 additional locations nationwide on National Wreaths Across America Day. Why December 18? Because the week before Christmas isn’t traditionally thought of as a time of remembrance, and holidays can be particularly challenging for the families of loved ones who gave their lives in service to their country. A $15 sponsorship goes toward a live, balsam wreath that will be placed on the headstone of an American hero on Dec. 18 as Wreaths Across America honors all Veterans who have been laid to rest.
— James Scalzitti

SPIRITUAL

Warriors to Lourdes
During World War II, members of the French military visited the site of St. Bernadette’s apparitions in Lourdes, offering prayers for peace. In December of 1944, U.S. military personnel joined British, Belgian, French and Russian military representatives for a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. After the War, French soldiers and their chaplains invited German soldiers and their chaplains to gather to pray together. The purpose of this initiative was to heal physical, emotional and spiritual wounds and to reconcile the past between these former adversaries by recognizing their common identity as Christians in search of peace. Today, the International Military Pilgrimage continues to take place for one weekend each May, drawing active-duty members and veterans from over 40 nations.
— Eugene Giudice

Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA
The Archdiocese for the Military Services was created by Pope Saint John Paul II to provide the Catholic Church’s full range of pastoral ministries and spiritual services to those in the United States Armed Forces. This includes more than 220 installations in 29 countries, patients in 153 V.A. Medical Centers, and federal employees serving outside the boundaries of the USA in 134 nations. The AMS counts more than 1.8 million men, women and children among its flock.
— Eugene Giudice

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