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Despite Grand Opening, Long Awaited Chicago Veterans' Center Will Not House Vets Until 2021 Due To COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois' newest retirement home for veterans is finally open. CBS 2's Lauren Victory got a tour Wednesday, but something very important was missing -- veterans. She has been investigating the delays for more than a year.

The Chicago Veterans' Center has been a topic of conversation at the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs since 1998. Now 22 years later, that vision is still unfulfilled despite a ribbon cutting Wednesday.

The facility is on Oak Park Avenue near Forest preserve drive in the Dunning neighborhood.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth listened to a tour guide give the welcome she has waited 12 years to hear. The combat Army veteran took stock of the new Chicago center intended for 200 of her comrades in their sunset years. It goes all the way through Alzheimer's care as well, she learned on the tour.

Right before the tour Duckworth reflected on her command in 2008 as head of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs.

"We need a veterans' home because the waiting list is 2,000 veterans long," she said.

But it turns out they will have to keep waiting.

Despite a grand opening, no military man or woman will be sleeping in the center until 2021. Six years after breaking ground, the delays in building the retirement home, from funding fights to the budget impasse to design flaws, have not been a secret.

But why did the state list the $120 million taxpayer funded project as complete six months ago if no one can use it yet?

The state clarified that construction was finished this spring, but the pandemic complicated the checklist inside.

"We changed ventilation protocols. We had to do some things with the HVAC systems, and we put in UV lights in the ductwork," said IDVA Veterans' Home Coordinator Gwen Diehl.

CBS 2 asked to see other floors during the tour, but they are not ready.

"We're in the process of getting our furnishings," said Diehl.

We're told the state will put a priority on service members already living in Illinois veterans' homes who have families from the Chicago area who have been forced to travel to Manteno or Quincy for visit until now.

Applications to move in will open in December, and the first residents are expected in February.

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