Veterans shut out of Illinois vaccine lottery

(AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

Like many other states, Illinois has been dreaming up every way imaginable to get more people to agree to be vaccinated. They’ve also jumped on the bandwagon to hold lottery drawings, with significant cash and prizes going to the winners, thanks to the generosity of the American taxpayers. Everyone who was recorded by the CDC as getting their shots in the state will have their name digitally thrown into a hat for a shot at the big money. Well… almost everyone. In one of the more embarrassing oversights in recent memory, it turns out that Democratic Governor J. B. Pritzker helped establish a lottery system that would make many veterans and all active-duty military members ineligible to win. And he’s getting an earful from some of his constituents about this. (CBS Chicago)

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 75,000 veterans in Illinois have been vaccinated at a VA facility.

But they and anyone else who got their shot at a VA facility or military base, have no shot at the jackpot announced by Governor JB Pritzker on Thursday.

“Korea veterans. Vietnam veterans. Desert Storm. The whole gamut.”

Steven Holt describes who he saw when he received his COVID vaccine at the Aurora VA Clinic earlier this year.

To be fair to Pritzker and the rest of his administration, this isn’t quite as bad as it looks at first glance, but it’s still not great. They didn’t sit down and create a rule saying veterans were not eligible, which would have been political suicide of the first order of magnitude. But the system they established to enroll everyone in the lottery produced the same effect.

The issue that’s messing things up is the fact that many veterans went to get their vaccinations at a VA facility where they get most of the rest of their healthcare needs seen to. In fact, to the state’s credit, Illinois set up an early access program for VA facilities to ensure that the veterans could get in promptly and be vaccinated if they wished to. But the VA only records and reports the total number of veterans in each state that rolled up their sleeves, not the individual names.

The situation is even worse for active-duty military members who are stationed in the state. They aren’t legally allowed to go get vaccinated anywhere except for on base. The shots have to be included in their military medical records. And the military does not share that information, so they’re out of luck as well. There are plenty of service members in Illinois, also, particularly when you consider that the Great Lakes Naval Station is located there.

Conversely, the CDC will provide the states with a list of all of the names of individuals who have been vaccinated. (Something that should already be alarming to you if you think about it for more than a moment.) So that list of names is being dumped into the lottery system while the veterans who went to a VA facility and the active-duty military members are left off.

The Governor is claiming that there is already a plan in the works to ensure that the veterans and troops have a chance, but he hasn’t provided any details yet. One suggestion is that they will hold a separate lottery just for the veterans and the troops. But that still doesn’t address the issue of how they’re going to get all of the names. An alternative, as was done in Oregon, would be to allow veterans to proactively add their names to the lottery database online. Then, if they were picked, they would need to show their proof of vaccination to collect the prize.

But is that plan any better? The veterans would only be on the list if they knew about the program and took the steps to add their names. For everyone else, it would be done automatically. And I haven’t been on active duty since the early 80s, but I’m not sure that the troops are given any sort of proof of vaccination that they could show to collect a prize.

The clock is ticking so Pritzker had better come up with something. The first lottery is scheduled to take place on July 8. But if he can’t ensure that our veterans and troops have at least an equal chance at winning, he should delay it until that can be made to happen.