From AP - News Headlines -

U.S. Senate Candidate Hears from Veterans in Urbana

The democrat running for President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat pledged to increased veterans benefits during a campaign stop in Urbana.

U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias was joined by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Assistant U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth.

Gulf War veteran Jason Wheeler of Champaign expressed his frustration to the that he cannot get proper medical care because of federal regulations.

Wheeler was preparing to ship out to Iraq in 2002, but just weeks before he was set to leave the U.S., he jumped out of a helicopter as part of a training exercise, and crash landed on a tarmac. His parachute did not work.

"I have no feeling from both of my knees down. From my hands to my elbows, they feel like they're on fire," he said.

Because Wheeler's injuries occurred on American soil, he said he does not get the same quality of federal care that veterans get when they are injured overseas. He can still get treated through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but since he was wounded on American soil, Wheeler is ineligible for TRICARE assistance, a program through the Department of Defense.

"I got injured, and I could use a lift for my vehicle," he said. "I could use these little things that can help you out, and a gentleman like myself can't get this help. So, we don't want to let that happen to the next guy."

Duckworth said historic progress has been made in the last few years by the democratically-led congress to raise veterans' benefits, but she stated that there just is not enough money to go around to provide the same level of care for all wounded veterans.

"It all goes back to the money," she said. "We've got to dedicate the money and resources to take care of all of our vets."

Wheeler spoke to Duckworth after the forum, and he said her office will look into his medical claims.

During the forum, Duckworth also touted the efforts of democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias in pushing for Illinois veterans to have access to affordable mortgages, and helping start a scholarship program for children of soldiers killed in action. Giannoulias would not give a deadline of when he hopes American troops should begin to pull out of Afghanistan, but he said the attention in Washington should be on fixing the nation's economy, improving infrastructure projects, and bolstering education programs.

The state treasurer is in a tight race against Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who released a statement ahead of the forum in which he outlined his support of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Kirk helped write the resolution authorizing the 2003 invasion into Iraq. After speaking with veterans, Giannoulias blasted Kirk for misleading the public leading up to the war. He noted Kirk's false statements that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Giannoulias said Kirk showed a lack of judgment for supporting a war that cost thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.

The Kirk campaign pointed out members of congress in both parties made that claim.

A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed Kirk and Giannoulias neck-and-neck with 34 percent of support among voters, followed by the Green Party's LeAlan Jones with six percent, Libertarian Mike Labno with 3 percent, and 22 percent of voters stating that they are undecided.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)