WASHINGTON — Since returning from Iraq last year, Illinois National Guard 1st Lt. Steven Rice has traveled cross-country several times for treatment of his injured left leg.

Luckily, he said, his home state has established a fund for guardsmen and reservists to cover expenses connected to traveling. He said not having to worry about paying for meals, taxi fare and other small costs — totaling almost $2,000 now — is a huge relief.

“Those kinds of things get overlooked,” he said. “But it’s those little things that pile up fast, and can become real problems.”

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and a host of military support organizations gathered this week at the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to stump for more programs like the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund.

Since its creation in 2003, the fund has distributed more than $2.7 million in grants to about 5,000 reserve personnel and their families for things like day-care bills, car payments and grocery expenses.

Money for the program comes solely from donations from state residents, who can elect to make tax-deductible donations to the fund by checking off a box on their income tax returns.

Funds are also available in nine other states — California, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming — and 24 others are considering similar legislation.

“We’re hearing from people who can’t pay their mortgages, can’t pay their utility bills,” said Michael Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard. “We have to help. It’s outrageous that families of our deployed servicemembers should suffer in this way.”

Quinn said the fund is geared toward reservists and guardsmen because they often see a sharp drop in pay when called to active duty, but still have financial commitments equal to their normal salary. That, coupled with their highest mobilization rate in Illinois history, leaves them most vulnerable to financial problems.

“We want to make sure we’re taking good care of those families,” he said. “We need a nationwide movement to establish these trust funds in every state of this country.”

Quinn also encouraged residents of states which already have the relief programs to give a donation when they file their tax returns.

For more information:

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now