Durbin: Congress Approves Official Naming of Lovell Federal Health Care Center

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced that his language to officially name the Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago after Captain James A. Lovell was approved by the full Congress last night. The legislation was approved as part of the FY2010 Omnibus spending bill which has been sent to the President for his signature.


“This is a great honor for a true American hero,” said Durbin. “The story of Apollo 13 has been told many times, as a testament to human ingenuity in harrowing circumstances. Captain Lovell’s experience reminds us of our excitement in exploring the final frontier of space. With today’s legislation, his name will grace a new effort – perhaps not as glamorous as space travel – but an effort that honors his legacy, providing quality health care for naval recruits, veterans, and military families.”


Captain Lovell is a former NASA astronaut and a retired captain in the United States Navy. After being selected by NASA for the manned space program, he accompanied fellow astronaut Frank Borman on the record-breaking fourteen day flight of Gemini 7. He joined fellow astronauts in the Apollo 8 mission, launch on December 21, 1968 as the first manned flight around the moon.

Lovell prominently served as the commander of the Apollo 13 mission which suffered an explosion en route to the Moon but was brought back safely to Earth by the efforts of the crew and mission control. Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only twenty-four people to have flown to the Moon and was also the first American to fly in space four times.

Earlier this year, President Obama signed the legislation – authored by Senator Durbin and supported by Representatives Melissa Bean (D-IL) and others – necessary to complete the merger of the North Chicago Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes. The legislative language was part of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act and gave authority to the Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to jointly operate the facility in North Chicago.


Durbin first introduced Lovell Federal Health Center legislation in November 2008 and Congresswoman Melissa Bean (D-IL) introduced similar legislation – co-sponsored by Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) – in the House of Representatives earlier this year. The approval of today’s language, as part of the Defense Authorization Act, represents a collective effort by Congress, the VA, Navy, and labor to address the complex issue of combining two federal hospitals. When complete, the Lovell Federal Health Center will be the first health care facility in the nation to be operated jointly between the VA and the Navy, saving taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise have been needed to rebuild or renovate the Navy’s nearby hospital.


After the VA announced plans in 1999 to close the North Chicago VA Medical Center, Durbin brought Illinois House and Senate members together to request an investigation into the possibility of having the Navy and the VA enter into a joint agreement for use of the facility. Senator Durbin later passed language requiring the Navy to expand the use of the hospital and to work with the VA to finalize site selection for the joint ambulatory care center and construction design. Today’s legislation is the final legislative piece that will allow beneficiaries who had previously received care at the Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes to be eligible for care and not required to make a co-pay.


Earlier this year, Durbin and Bean joined the Secretary of the VA, Eric Shinseki, at the North Chicago Federal Health Center for a round table discussion on the need for legislative language to clear the remaining hurdles in merging the Navy and VA hospitals at North Chicago. Secretary Shinseki’s visit followed a January meeting with Durbin, who stressed the importance of the efforts in North Chicago on the eve of Shinseki’s confirmation.


For the last year, Durbin and Bean have worked tirelessly with stakeholders to fine-tune language that will allow the North Chicago facility to operate as has been envisioned for years--as an integrated facility of the armed services and the VA. Additionally, Durbin worked with the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee Daniel Akaka (D-HI) to encourage the VA to address this issue in the agency’s 2010 budget. In May, it was announced that the VA did exactly that, making it easier for Congress to work with the Administration to complete the North Chicago project.