The Office of Veterans Affairs is the largest health care provider in the U.S., and one of the largest federal federal bureaucracies. The Grundy County Veterans Assistance Commission is there to help veterans navigate both.
Ken Buck, superintendent of the Grundy County Veterans Assistance Commission, said the commission is the central office to provide assistance to veterans and their families. It helps with benefits ranging from health care to disability, pensions for veterans, education under the G.I. bill and more.
Buck is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Germany from 1988 to 1991 and a reservist nine years later. He said he got involved with the Veterans Assistance Commission because he was actively involved in the American Legion and VFW in Morris for many years. He’s been the superintendent for the past 12 years.
He was a delegate from the American Legion to the Veterans Assistance Commission before becoming superintendent, landing the job when the commission reorganized and he was selected by his peers. These veterans organizations, such as the American Legion, VFW, Disabled American Veterans, Society of 40 and 8, Marine Corps League and more, have the power through a state statute to centralize financial assistance to veterans in need through the Veterans Assistance Commission.
“We have 10 posts, and by their charters they sometimes provide financial assistance to veterans in need,” Buck said. “The state statute authorizes them to centralize that into our office. So instead of each post providing financial assistance, we’re the central office for it.”
It’s not just financial assistance. There is case management to help veterans and their families get services such as LIHEAP, assistance from food pantries, legal assistance and more. Buck’s job with the commission consolidates all the work into one office.
“I tell veterans [that] all the time, especially when they come in here trying to do their claims or other things,” Buck said. “They get frustrated. The VA, especially the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is a large animal.”
Buck said the VA is one of the largest medical providers in the country, and it’s not like an insurance card. Veterans have to go to a VA hospital such as Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital near Maywood or Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.
“And it’s not official, but I tell people that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is probably the second-largest bureaucracy right behind the Department of Defense,” Buck said. “They’re large animals, and veterans go from one right to the other. ... That transition is not smooth.”
Buck said all this work is very rewarding. One of the things he likes about his position is that he can answer a lot of questions and debunk a lot of myths. He already was doing veteran outreach and education before, this job lets him do it in an official capacity.
When asked what myth stands out most, Buck said, “Many veterans believe you have to be a combat veteran to be eligible for any VA benefits, and that is not true. Peacetime veterans are also eligible, as are reserve veterans and National Guard veterans. There’s very little they’re eligible for but active duty peacetime veterans are still eligible for many of the benefits and services.”