"It's just a slap in the face to any veteran."
By Kate Northrop
Illinois is making headlines after it was revealed that thousands of veterans won't be eligible to enter the "All In For The Win" incentive lottery for a shot at the millions of dollars being awarded to vaccinated individuals.
Ever since Ohio announced its Vax-a-Million lottery to encourage residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, states have been coming out with their own lotteries left and right. However, the lottery incentive announced by Governor JB Pritzker on Thursday prevents many Illinois veterans from being eligible to enter, despite them receiving a vaccine.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that over 75,000 vets in Illinois were vaccinated at a VA facility. Any of these residents, including those who received their shot at a military base, currently have no chance at winning a million dollars in the state's vaccine lottery.
Steven Holt, who received his vaccine at the Aurora VA Clinic earlier this year, told CBS Chicago that he was upset that not a single veteran who got a vaccine at the clinic would be eligible to enter the lottery in Illinois.
"Korea veterans, Vietnam veterans, Desert Storm — the whole gamut," he said in an interview. "It's just a slap in the face to any veteran."
Representative Stephanie Kifowit, herself a veteran, pointed out the irony in how veterans were prioritized when vaccines were initially rolled out, only to be snubbed later.
"One of the things they were always so proud of is how quickly the VA got vaccinations out for the veterans, within a matter of weeks," Kifowit remarked.
Vets are unable to enter the vaccine lottery because the federal government is its own entity and only shares the number of people vaccinated through Veterans Affairs facilities, not specific names. That means that anyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine through a VA facility cannot have their names submitted for the incentive lottery.
Active military members don't even have a say as to where they receive the vaccine and, by extension, are excluded from the lottery as well.
"They actually cannot get a vaccine off of base," Kifowit explained. "It has to be part of their active medical record."
The lottery will award $10 million total — $7 million in cash prizes for vaccinated adults 18 years of age and older and $3 million in scholarship awards for children ages 12 to 17. The Illinois Lottery will conduct the drawings, the first one to take place on July 8. Residents must receive a dose by July 1 in order to be eligible for prizes in the first drawing.
Illinoisans who receive a vaccine are automatically entered into lottery because they are required to submit their names to the medical professionals who administer them.
Washington state created its own workaround for the problem and announced a separate federally funded lottery for military members and veterans. While a similar solution has yet to be announced for Illinois, Kifowit told CBS Chicago that Governor Pritzker's office reassured her that something was in the works before the first drawing on July 8.
Holt said that he is hopeful that something will be done for Illinois' veterans, who would greatly benefit from such a lifechanging prize.
"Somehow, they have to figure out how the veterans can be included," Holt continued. "This would be a really good shot in the arm for them if they were to be one of the lucky ones to win."