La Salle County veterans advocate joins call for IDVA director, chief of staff resignations

More than a dozen officials statewide ask for Linda Chapa LaVia, Anthony Kolbeck’s dismissal

It was not a decision taken lightly to call for Director Linda Chapa LaVia’s resignation, but unfortunately this is where the road has led us.”

—  Steven Kreitzer, superintendent of the La Salle County Veterans Assistance Commission

A La Salle County official joined more than a dozen veterans advocates across the state in calling for the resignation or dismissal of Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia and Chief of Staff Anthony Kolbeck.

Steven Kreitzer, La Salle County Veterans Assistance Commission superintendent, signed a Jan. 1 memo to the governor, along with 13 other counties’ veterans assistance commission superintendents, the state VFW commander and Allen Lynch, a Medal of Honor recipient.

Kreitzer said Monday he observed a failure in leadership from the highest levels during the COVID-19 outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home at La Salle that has resulted in 36 deaths, 108 cases among residents and 106 cases among staff.

The memo said that veterans advocates have lost confidence in Chapa LaVia and Kolbeck’s ability to lead, citing specifically the use of a nonalcohol-based hand sanitizer at the La Salle veterans home, use of unapproved personal protective equipment, lack of temperature monitoring staff at entrances, leaving a vacancy in the senior homes administrator position that oversees all veterans homes and lack of no standardized notification letter reporting information from outbreaks at the facilities.

“As far as what was not done, we are deeply concerned about the department’s communication plan and incident response plan, which have seemingly been non-existent,” the memo said. “To our knowledge, no department press conferences have been held on the specific topic of COVID-19 outbreaks at any of the state veterans homes.”

The memo was critical of how the director and chief of staff managed crisis, saying leadership didn’t visit the La Salle home until late in the outbreak. An incident command system appears not to have been activated, allowing for a unified command to coordinate response, the memo said.

Both the state Senate and House veterans affairs committees have hosted hearings investigating the La Salle facility outbreak and an independent investigation led by the inspector general of the Illinois Department of Human Services was launched.

Kreitzer was critical Monday of other issues he’s brought to Chapa LaVia, including the La Salle Veterans Home policy – which was recently changed – that caused donated items from a recent drive not to get to residents in a timely fashion.

“I have brought my concerns directly to [Chapa LaVia] on multiple occasions only to have her not take them seriously and not fully investigated,” Kreitzer said. “I’m astonished that as we continue to dig into this situation more things keep getting discovered.”

Kreitzer said his decision to sign onto the memo was the culmination of “a lot of conversations with others following the situation at the La Salle veterans home closely.”

“It was not a decision taken lightly to call for Director Linda Chapa LaVia’s resignation, but unfortunately this is where the road has led us,” Kreitzer said.

Kreitzer said he was one among other officials in writing Chapa LaVia’s proposal when she received the job as director, but he said the goal was to make the veterans home a facility other nursing homes could emulate.

“I think it is time to look at how the lead veterans advocate in Illinois is selected,” Kreitzer said. “It’s time to put a stop to the revolving door of directors at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs changing at each election cycle.”

Kreitzer commended the nurses, aides and administrative staff at the veterans homes.

“They have been helping to sound the alarm when things go awry and are working to make things better,” Kreitzer said.

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.