by Michelle Manchir
A veterans health-care facility in Joliet could still be at least a year away from taking shape, Rep. Judy Biggert told a crowd of about 30 veterans and local residents in Bolingbrook on Tuesday.
Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican who represents Illinois' 13th district, said Silver Cross Hospital plans to vacate its facility in Joliet in March 2012, and the Department of Veterans Affairs is working with Silver Cross on an offer to sell any related contracts.
"It doesn't mean the deal is absolutely final," Biggert said. "We don't want to put the cart before the horse."
Biggert, who was visiting Bolingbrook Town Center, said the plan to start looking at turning the soon-to-be vacated space into a health-care facility for veterans first came in July of 2008, when local American Legion commanders contacted her with the idea.
Since then, Biggert has been involved in ongoing meetings with stakeholders pursuing the plan.
Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital Director Sharon Helman, who joined Biggert on Tuesday, said no matter how quickly a plan gets into place on a new facility, she hopes the department can expand health-care access to veterans in the Joliet area, many of whom now drive 23 miles from Bolingbrook to Hines, Ill. for care.
"I am also at the mercy of the process," she said. "But I guarantee that we are going to expand our services there."
She said adding services such as physical therapy and hearing aid checks could be included.
Bolingbrook resident and Navy and Air Force Veteran William Simonton, 85, said a veterans hospital in Joliet would mean fewer 25-mile trips from his home to Hines. Still, he said the satellite office that operates now for veterans in Joliet meets most of his needs, including biannual blood tests.
"It's working fairly well," he said.