Two new laws aim to help veterans find jobs, better health care

  • Lauren Underwood

    Lauren Underwood

Updated 1/17/2021 3:44 PM

Two newly adopted federal laws aim to help more veterans pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and provide better quality and accessible health care for women veterans at Veterans Affairs' facilities.

The Veterans in STEM Act expands scholarship opportunities for veterans in clinical health training programs.


"These service members get all of this experience, maybe as a medic or a tech or something like that, but they are not necessarily licensed or credentialed in the same way that it will be recognized in the civilian environment. ... It's very difficult for them to get jobs in that area of expertise," said U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and architect of both laws. "We want to make sure these types of programs are available to (veterans) given the popularity of these careers nationally, but certainly how vital they are to our local economy."

While this law applies to all veterans, women and minorities are typically underrepresented in STEM fields.

Women's health

The Caring for Our Women Veterans Act directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct studies and report to Congress annually on gender-specific care available at VA facilities.

Women make up the fastest growing segment of veterans nationwide.

"The VA has struggled nationwide to have appropriate gender-specific care, in terms of the number of providers and services offered in each region of the country," Underwood said.

Issues have included making necessary physical improvements at veterans hospitals so that women can have their own spaces for specialized services and privacy, she added.

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Equity challenge

The United Way of Illinois has launched a 21-week Equity Challenge to encourage residents to engage in racial equity conversations in their communities.

The goal is to gain a deeper understanding about the impact systemic racism and inequity have on the state and local communities.

Participants will receive one email per week starting Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday through Juneteenth on June 19, spending about 15 minutes weekly completing each challenge activity. Topics include understanding privilege, housing and redlining, and justice system inequities.

Those who complete all the weekly challenges will receive a certificate of completion, a digital badge, and links to tips and training tools to help continue the conversation.

To sign up, visit


Racism summit

The League of Women Voters of Arlington Heights will host youth and adult online summits on racism Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, both Mondays.

The free programs, "Through Our Eyes: 2021 Northwest Suburbs Summit on Racism," will be 7 to 8:30 p.m.

On Jan. 25, young people of color under 26 years old from within the boundaries of Northwest Suburban High School District 214 will discuss their personal experiences with racism and bias. To register visit

Adults who are people of color and live and work in Arlington Heights will share their stories Feb. 1. Register at

Both programs will be led and moderated by youth, and American Sign Language interpretation will be available.

Remembering MLK

The United for Peace Coalition will host a virtual panel discussion celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17.

The free event, titled "Realizing Dr. King's Dream through 'Good Trouble' and Nonviolence," is sponsored by 15 community organizations including the NAACP, Unity Partnership, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Islamic Center of Naperville, Gandhi King Foundation, Naperville Neighbors United and the College of Lake County Center for Nonviolence.

It will be moderated by WBEZ senior producer Steve Bynum. Speakers include U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood and Marie Newman, community activist Henry Cervantes of The Peace Exchange, author Thomas Armstrong, area law enforcement officials and youth leaders. The discussion will be focused on racial justice between critical stakeholder groups and how the legacy of King relates to the nature of peaceful protests and demands for social justice.

"My hope is that attendees take away the connections between the powerful words and actions of Dr. King, and the issues we face today around racial justice and the verbal and physical violence we witness in our society," said Larry Leck, coordinator for CLC's Center for Nonviolence. "To be a bystander now is to ignore our call to sustain what Dr. King called 'The Beloved Community,' which is a society based on justice and equal opportunity. An essential element of which is social and economic inclusiveness."

To join the webinar via Zoom, visit

Racism book discussion

Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin and the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders will host a book discussion as part of a continuing conversation on race, policing and incarceration from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24.

Register for a Zoom link to join the free online event at Community members will discuss Michelle Alexander's 2010 book "The New Jim Crow," describing mass incarceration through the lens of systemic racism. It will be hosted by Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain and moderated by Joyce Fountain, Elgin Community College sociology instructor. Special guests are Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain and Benedictine University professor Vincent Gaddis.

For more information, visit

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