THE Illinois Veterans Home was once again front and center in the world of Illinois politics after Chicago radio station WBEZ published a report that Darlene Senger, a former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bruce Rauner and current candidate for state comptroller, wrote in a December 2017 email to administration officials that "We can maybe tie this back to Duckworth."
The email was sent after a Democratic state lawmaker called for an audit of the response to deadly outbreaks of Legionella bacteria at the home.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat, was director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs from 2006 to 2009.
Senger's political opponents seized on the WBEZ report, calling on her to -- at the very least -- apologize.
Senger's campaign told The Herald-Whig that she stands by her original statement that the "simple, bipartisan fact" was that multiple administrations had underfunded the home, allowing the facilities to deteriorate to a point that allowed the aging infrastructure to harbor the bacteria.
All of this comes after a task force, created by Rauner to address health and safety issues at the home, submitted a final report earlier this month that called for a "complete reconstruction" of the campus, including a new residential building and water distribution plumbing loop, at an estimated cost of between $202 and $245 million.
This is where we believe the focus should remain. Finding a way to immediately fund and begin construction must be a top priority for the governor and the Legislature.
As Chuck Scholz, former Quincy mayor and member of the Bipartisan Quincy Veterans Home Steering Committee said, "Legionella lives in those old galvanized pipes, no matter what you do to treat the water."
A senior adviser to the governor said in a news release that the administration is working with the General Assembly to draft legislation to move forward with the plan, and we hope that is the case.
The state has a deadline of May 31 to finish the coming year's budget, and any budget that does not include the necessary funding for these desperately needed repairs could likely mean more veterans will be at risk, despite the incredible response by officials now at the home to protect its residents.
In the meantime, we would caution all of those in the political realm to keep their focus on the residents at the home. They have served their country honorably, and they deserve not only our respect but the best care that can be offered. Their safety cannot be allowed to become ammunition in a political battle.
There are plenty of questions to be answered about the response to the outbreaks and how it could have been better, and we should not forget that fact.
Right now, the state's singular focus should be a solution. Anything else is a disservice to those who so valiantly served their country. Now it's our duty to serve them.