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By Dean Olson, State Journal-Register

After James Charles was diagnosed with HIV more than 20 years ago, a federally funded program in Springfield helped him afford medical care and eventually gave him access to private dental insurance.

His mental health received a boost, as well, when the Illinois HIV Care Connect program linked him with a counselor and a support group for people struggling with the virus that causes AIDS.

“It’s difficult to comprehend a chronic illness unless you have it yourself,” said Charles, 47, who grew up in rural Williamsville and lives in South Jacksonville.

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