This week, our nation paused to celebrate Veterans Day, a time to reflect and honor those who have served Illinois and our country proudly. One man who was a good friend of mine, a brave Marine and a true champion of America’s veterans, Lane Evans, recently passed away after a nearly 20 year battle with Parkinson’s disease. Lane left behind a legacy of service to his country, both as a member of the Marine Corps and as a Congressman from Rock Island, Illinois.
Lane enlisted with the Marines in 1969 at age 17 just after he graduated high school. Military service was a tradition in his family. Lane’s father served in the Navy and one of his brothers was already serving in Vietnam at the time. After two years in the Marines, Lane went to college using the GI Bill and graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island. He started a successful law practice in his hometown that served children, the poor and working families.
As a young lawyer, Lane ran for Congress in 1982 and won his first time trying; we were elected together that year. While in Washington, Lane was a champion of blue-collar workers and senior citizens. He fought for a fair minimum wage, for a cleaner environment, and to give students from working class families a chance to get a good college education. His office was also famous when it came to constituent services because they were simply the best.
But most of all, Lane Evans fought for veterans. He made veterans the cornerstone of his legislative career. During his time in Congress, there was no federal program for veterans that did not bear his mark. Lane was the first chairman of the Vietnam-era Veterans’ Congressional Caucus and the first Vietnam-era veteran to serve as ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He was an outspoken advocate to address the problem of homelessness and substance abuse among Vietnam vets. He also led the fight to get compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange.
Lane’s advocacy for veterans did not stop at the Vietnam War. He was one of the first members of Congress to push for more information about maladies suffered by veterans of the Persian Gulf War and helped put issues like PTSD and TBI – traumatic brain injury – on the map. Lane also led the effort to create a pilot program establishing community-based veterans centers to help with job and marriage counseling and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The program has since grown to include hundreds of veterans’ centers around the country.
The best way we can honor the memory of Lane Evans is to continue his work on behalf of America’s veterans. Given his lifetime of service, it is a fitting tribute to remember this great champion of veterans by naming the VA medical center in Galesburg, Illinois in his honor. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Senator Mark Kirk, and the entire Illinois Congressional Delegation to do exactly that.
Supporting and strengthening our veterans' access to health care, education, job training, housing and other services, is every bit about keeping the promise we made to our vets. Earlier this year, Congress passed the to improve access to health care offered at VA facilities nationwide. There is still work left to be done and I plan to continue to follow in Lane’s footsteps by working to improve services for every veteran who served this nation bravely in defense of our freedom.
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Sent from the office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin