Illinois Governor Halts Vets Eviction from State VA Facility

Vietnam vet Eugene Zalazinski returns to his home after the governor of Illinois intervened on his behalf.

A Vietnam War vet is back at a state Veterans Home facility in Quincy, Illinois. For now.

On Monday, the home hired a private transportation company, enlisted the services of a state trooper, and tried to forcibly evict vet Eugene Zalazinski. The plan was to deposit Mr. Zalazinski at his brother’s house in Chicago, although the facility had not informed the vet’s brother of this plan. Within an hour of the eviction, Governor Bruce Rauner intervened and temporarily reversed the move.

According to Doug Wilson, who has covered this saga extensively for the Quincy Herald Whig newspaper, the care facility, which provides long-term care to about 450 Illinois veterans, began evictions proceedings against Zalazinski last week. The vet’s family and attorney were able to win temporarily reprieves.

Last Wednesday, Zalazinki’s brother Robert tried to meet with Veterans Home officials to work out a solution. Wilson reported that Dawn Whitcomb, adjutant of the facility, told the family Mr. Zalazinski could stay in the facility while he searched for alternative living arrangements.

On Friday, Ms. Whitcomb apparently had a change of heart and visited Mr. Zalazinski’s room, accompanied by a state trooper, and told him to pack his bags to leave. She told the vet he may have to be taken to a Salvation Army shelter for the homeless if he didn’t have other living arrangements. That push for eviction seems to have simply evaporated and Zalazinksi remained in the home over the weekend.

As this eviction farce was playing out, state Sen. John Sullivan, who represents the area, and the state Attorney General’s office tried to intercede on behalf of Mr. Zalazinski, seeking details on the reasons for the eviction and exploring other options.

Mr. Zalazinski’s family had requested that the veteran be transferred to a facility closer to Chicago, where they live. They were informed, however, that Mr. Zalazinski would be “banned” from all state care facilities.

Instead of addressing these concerns, the Home chose to physically remove Zalazinski from the home on Monday, a state and federal holiday.

The facility’s decision to evict Mr. Zalazinski seems to rest on his tendency to “hoard” newspapers, magazines and mail. The Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs has cited the “condition your room is kept in” as a reason for the involuntary eviction. Zalazinski’s room has been cleaned out several times over his 11 years at the home. His family has offered to help clean out the room again and suggested counseling to address his “hoarding” tendencies.

Mr. Zalazinksi believes the cause is his criticism of Bruce Vaca, Administrator of the Home. “I’ve been a rebel since I was about 8 years old. I open my mouth,” Zalazinski told Wilson. “When I visit other guys in other buildings, their rooms are just as messy, but they’re not getting this harassment.”

Robert Zalazinski, the veteran’s brother, said the home’s actions seemed “more like a personal vendetta to me.” Tom Leeper, the vet’s attorney, described the home’s treatment of his client as “outrageous.” Leeper said he was never contacted by anyone at the home about the decision to remove Eugene Zalazinski on Monday.

“He’s being treated worse than when he returned from Vietnam,” Leeper told Wilson.

Under current state law, a veteran facing involuntary eviction from a care facility has no right to appeal the decision. Sen. John Sullivan has promised to change the law during the current legislative session.

In the meantime, the Governor’s intervention provides a kind of defacto appeal process for this specific case. In it certainly possible that Mr. Zalazinski’s hoarding habit could pose a safety or health risk to other residents.

The manner in which his eviction has been handled does suggest, however, that other factors may behind the Home’s decision. Officials at the facility seem intent on removing Mr. Zalazinski has expeditiously as possible, rather than find a mutually beneficial solution.

Often, the worst of government is found in the petty actions taken by public officials, rather than the headline-grabbing, overt displays of power. Countless times, these small actions escape public scrutiny. Kudos to Mr. Wilson for bringing this sad episode into the light of day.