I don’t know what other stops he had on his Wednesday journey to McHenry County, but I caught up with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin while he was learning about NASA Education’s automotive repair business.
It has recently been re-located from Pingree Road sought of Rakow to Route 31 near the fire place store.
There people can get total care for their vehicles which are fixed by Veterans who are mechanics or training to be mechanics.
Durbin listened to the stories of three men in the shop.
He asked several times whether John Blanchard’s brainchild got any Federal funds.
The answer was “No.”
That seemed to surprise the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate.
Blanchard explained that funding came from related business.
That and contributions.
One source of contributions results from inserts in driver’s license renewals sent out by Secretary of State Jesse White.
They solicit the donations of cars, which NASA Education employees pick up all over the state and beyond.
One of the men told of going to St. Louis and Indiana to get vehicles.
“Most of them aren’t in great shape,” Blanchard said, explaining how they were repaired there prior to being sold or given to Veterans who needed them.
That happens eight months a year.
NASA Education Foundation has to pay for the printing, but obviously the postage is paid by State government.
So far, about 120 cars have been donated.
Durbin, his staff, Blanchard and his assistant Amy Johnson, then walked over the NASA Education, the for-profit headquarters.
Again, Durbin asked, “Any government funding?”
“We’re working for our money,” Blanchard explained, after noting that the recession hasn’t hurt contributions.
He briefly outlined some of the businesses, including a re-sale shop in Carpentersville and a trucking company, among others.
The topic moved onto “the increasing difficulty at getting served at the VA.”
A Veteran in the room explained that it was “more difficult to get the appointments and make the appointments timely.”
“They’re getting swamped,” Blanchard observed.
He explained that if one needed immediate care, a hospital emergency room was where Veterans had to go.
Durbin talked about how ill-advised he thought it had been to close the Veterans Hospital in North Chicago. He credited former Congressman John Porter with advancing the idea of combining the care of Veterans with active duty personnel at Great Lakes.
“Impossible!” was the reaction. “They don’t speak the same language,” congressmen were told.
He told of “head-to-head battles between unions, the Navy and the VA.”
But the merger was accomplished.
“Don’t cut the budget,” Durbin said with reference to Veterans health care.
“For God’s sake, we promised these servicemen we’d stand behind them.”
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