Surrounded by veterans and other elected officials, Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton announced the formation of the bipartisan Serving Illinois' Heroes Committee to focus on veterans' issues, during a press conference at Waubonsee Community College's downtown Aurora campus Monday.
The committee, comprised of 19 veterans, is the second of several working groups the Pritzker administration has announced, featuring experts in a variety of subjects - in this case, veterans' affairs - intended to advise and guide the incoming administration.
Pritzker told reporters he believes it is "our obligation; it's our duty" to stand up for veterans in the United States.
"We want to make sure that we're doing the right thing for our veterans, and I know that together we will," Pritzker said. "We have a real commitment in the state of Illinois to live up to, and as governor, I'm going to make sure that happens."
"As chair of the transition, my top priority is making sure that our administration is responsive and ready to be responsive to the needs of every Illinoisan," Stratton said. "Today we are observing veterans, and honoring our veterans ... and what better way to honor the men and women who served our country than to be ready to serve them on day one of our administration?"
Officials discussed some of the topics during the press conference the committee is expected to address.
"It's time to make sure that our veterans can afford higher education when they return home, that they can build economic opportunity, have access to safe and affordable housing and make sure they have access to health care. These are priorities that J.B. and I really believe are important and things that we will work very hard to see happen," Stratton said. "Our veterans bravely served us overseas, and it's time that we had their backs."
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Secretary of State Jesse White and retiring State Rep. David Harris, R-Mount Prospect, will chair the committee.
Duckworth, who was not in attendance at the press conference, released a statement that read in part, "I know Gov.-elect Pritzker’s administration will be an important partner in our work to truly support and repay the sacrifices of our veterans and our troops in harm’s way, and I’m honored to co-chair the new administration’s Veterans Transition Committee."
White served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and in the National Guard.
"Our veterans have served us with honor and distinction, so we must reciprocate; show love and respect for them as well," he said. "The governor, as the chief executive officer of the state of Illinois, has the responsibility to make our nation's heroes have the tools they need to live with dignity. Taking care of our veterans is not a partisan issue."
Harris, who served as Commanding General of the Illinois Army and Air National Guard, said he believes it is heartwarming to see Pritzker and Stratton establish a transition team with a veterans committee to look at ways to improve services for veterans.
"I'm really proud to stand here today with all of my fellow veterans, who have worn the uniform of this country," Harris said.
Services for veterans are ... not a Republican agenda, it's not a Democratic agenda, there is no agenda to helping a veteran get a job, there is no partisan agenda to helping a veteran get an education, to get a ... proper home or to get access to the mental health care that veterans may very well need. The only agenda is making sure our veterans ... are properly served as Illinois moves forward."
The committee will also include State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, current Deputy State Treasurer Rodrigo Garcia, co-founder of Leave No Veteran Behind Eli Williamson, and CEO/founder of Bunker Labs Todd Connor.