Cook County Veterans Affairs - February 2022 Newsletter

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Cook County Seal - Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President

Veterans Affairs | February 2022

In this issue:

  • Letter from the Director
  • Black History Legacy: Honoring African American Veterans of Illinois
  • Organization to Know: Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County
  • February Events in the Veterans Community

A Letter from the Director of Veterans Affairs Maj. Deanna "De" Love, USA, Ret.

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Happy February Cook County veterans!

It’s still cold outside, but our veteran community continues to find ways to warm our hearts.

On Sunday, February 6, the American Legion Post 974 of Franklin Park hosted their first talent show. The show was organized by the junior members of Auxiliary Unit 974. Family and friends looked on as members took the stage in festive outfits and costumes reminiscent of heritage and history.

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The Calumet City VFW Post 8141 celebrated and honored the works of post member Nicky “The Greek” Karakalis. Nicky was highlighted as the post’s employee of the month.

The veteran community also bids a heartfelt farewell to United States Marine Corps veteran and beloved American Legion Post 690 member, Wally Degner. The former post commander and community advocate passed away on Thursday, February 10, 2022. Wally is survived by his wife Janet, his brother Arden, daughter Amy (Tom) Kenna, sons Curt (Sheila) and Carl as well as many cousins, nieces and nephews.

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The veteran community and American Legion Manuel Perez, Jr. Post 1017 bids fair winds and following seas to post member and World War II United States Navy veteran, Alfred Arroyo.

Arroyo served from November 1942 to January of 1946. He was trained as a Navy hospital corpsman and served on surgical team #13 aboard the U.S. Naval Ship USS LST 746.

Disability Rating

The federal government is proposing new changes to the Veterans Affairs (VA) Schedule for Rating Disabilities specifically pertaining to respiratory, auditory and mental disorders. These changes would incorporate medical advancement treatments and modern medical knowledge and terminology in order to compensate veterans more accurately.

Veterans who are currently receiving compensation for these conditions will not have their disability rating affected. 

Veterans and the public have until Monday, April 18, 2022 to provide feedback on the proposed changes. When changes are finalized, veterans currently receiving compensation for conditions affected by this update can apply to increase their current ratings.

To review and comment on the proposed changes, click here.

Veteran Service Officers

To improve outreach and increase feasibility, Veteran Service Officers (VSO) will begin traveling to different sites to assist veterans with DD214 retrieval and filing VA claims. Beginning Friday, February 25, VSO Gavin Armour will be at the Chicago Heights Veteran Center every Friday moving forward from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Chicago Heights Veterans Center is located at 1010 Dixie Highway, 2nd floor, Chicago Heights, IL 60411. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please email VSO Armour at

Past Service Member Events

On Thursday, February 10, the Black Veterans Empowerment Council hosted Continuing to Serve: Reflecting on the History and Legacy of African American Service Members. This event was hosted at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in collaboration with the Black Veterans Project. Attendees were able to engage with African American owned nonprofits and social impact leaders in the Chicago region. A panel with prominent African American veteran leaders discussed important topics relative to the African American veteran community.

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Chicago State University’s athletic department hosted a military appreciation basketball game on Saturday, February 12, 2022. Veterans, service members and ROTC cadre and cadets attended the game against Sam Houston State University. The game kicked off with the presentation of the colors by Chicago State University’s ROTC program and continued with photo opportunities and interviews with the Black Veterans Project.

Stay connected by following the Cook County Department of Veterans Affairs Facebook page.

Black History Legacy: Honoring African American Veterans of Illinois

From the Revolutionary War to Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, African Americans have etched their legacy into America’s history. For hundreds of years, African American service members embodied the value of selfless service and have been the epitome of U.S. patriotism. Despite being deprived of human rights and equality, they continued to protect and defend a country that didn’t abolish all-black units until desegregation in 1954.

The legacy of African American service members echoes throughout the lands of Illinois from the rich history of those who fought and some who paid the ultimate price for their country. During the Civil War, the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment was organized on April 24, 1864 in Quincy, Illinois. On May 27, 1864, the unit was ordered to Annapolis, Maryland, where the soldiers began their honorable tour of service that came to an end November 6, 1865. Within this unit, Bravo, Charlie and Delta Companies hailed from Cook County, Illinois.

In 1898, the 8th Illinois Regiment was authorized and formed by Illinois Governor John R. Tanner. Soldiers were recruited from Chicago and Springfield to serve. The 8th Illinois Regiment went down in history as the only unit led by African American officers to fight in the Spanish American War. In October of 1917, the 8th Illinois Regiment was mobilized and redesignated as the 370th Infantry Regiment.

The 370th Infantry Regiment trained at Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, until March of 1918. At that time, the regiment was nearly 3,000 strong and would leave the United States to join the efforts of the French Army in the Battle of World War I. The 370th Regiment joined the ranks of the 93rd Division and fought alongside the French Army and the 369th, 371st and 372nd Infantry Regiments of the United States African American units. During this time of conflict, the prejudice and divide of the nation proved to be stronger than the call for freedom and service, as the 370th Regiment along with the remaining African American units were not allowed to serve with or fight beside American soldiers that were not of African descent.

This blaring circumstance of injustice was not a hindrance for the soldiers of the 93rd and Illinois’ 370th Regiments. The men of the 370th Regiment fought alongside the French Army until the close of hostilities. The 370th fought in France and Belgium against German forces. Their tenacity and vigor in battle was so insurmountable that they earned the nickname “Black Devils” by German combatants.

For their actions during the war, the service members of the 370th received 21 Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal and 68 French Croix de Guerre. Lt. Col. Otis B. Duncan was awarded a Croix de Guerre of the 370th Regiment and was notably the highest-ranking African American officer to serve in World War I combat. The 370th Regiment reactivated in October of 1942 to train for combat in World War II (WWII). The unit entered combat with the rest of the 92nd Infantry Division on August 24, 1944 and remained in combat until May of 1945.

Out of all the African American soldiers in WWII, Illinois had one soldier who went on to make history. Harold Lee Washington was a Chicago native who was drafted into the military in 1942. He served with the U.S. Air Force Engineers during WWII until 1946. Decades later, Washington went on to become Chicago’s first African American mayor.

Some of Illinois’ most notable African American service members are:

  • Secretary of State Jesse White, 101st Airborne Division and Illinois National Guard
  • The Honorable Judge William H. Hooks, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps
  • Former Director of Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Veterans Foundation Leon Mangum, U.S. Army
  • Colonel John R. Marshall, Commander of the 8th Illinois Infantry
  • Pilot Eldridge Johnson Jr., Operation Lam Son, Condors Quarter, Vietnam, U.S. Army
  • Founder of Legacy Flight Academy Lieutenant Colonel Kenyatta Ruffin, U.S. Air Force
  • First Director of Veterans Affairs for Chicago Victor Lagroon, U.S. Army

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle extends her gratitude to the past, present and future service members of Cook County.

February's Organization to Know

Spotlight on Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County

The Veterans Assistance Commission of Cook County (VACCC) provides emergency assistance to hundreds of eligible veterans each year. Services offered include rent or mortgage assistance, utilities assistance, help with food and transportation as well as burial and records support.

The VACCC has partnered with the American Legion’s 3rd District Veterans Service Officer Rick Lesniewicz. Mr. Lesniewicz is a United States Army veteran who served from 1973 to 1975. After his time in the military, he worked as a civilian investigator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Upon retirement, Mr. Lesniewicz volunteered as a VSO and has assisted thousands of veterans over the years. The incorporation of a VSO in the VACCC increases the organization’s capabilities to provide services that include filing for benefits, discharge upgrades, vocational rehabilitation and disability claims.

To be eligible for assistance, veterans must have an honorable discharge. To expedite service times, veterans are encouraged to bring their DD214, VA rating/award letter (showing percentages), total household income verification (two current paystubs, pension, unemployment, social security and G.I. Bill) as well as billing statements reflecting the support needed.

The VACCC is located in the lower level of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave. in Chicago and is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. The sign-in window for services closes at 3:00 p.m. sharp. The VACCC is closed for lunch 12:45 - 1:30 p.m. daily. For more information, visit or call 312-433-6015.

Know an organization that serves veterans in Cook County? Help spread the word and support. Email your submission for Cook County’s Organization to Know to

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February Veterans Events

2022 State VFW-VSO Visit
Benjamin O. Davis, VFW Post 311
Wednesday, March 9, 2022 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
4647 Lincoln Highway, Matteson, IL 60443
For more information call: 708-679-0995

Foxhole Fish Fry
Steger American Legion Post 521
Friday, February 25, 2022 from 4 – 7 p.m.
34 W. 34th St, Steger, IL 60475
For more information, visit Steger American Legion Post 521 Facebook page or call 708-754-2610.

Virtual Buddy Poppies Drive
VFW Benjamin O. Davis Post 311
All funds from the Poppy Drive support veterans and their families in need.
For more information and to donate, visit: