Texas has a strong reputation for supporting our veterans. We understand that the 1.6 million Texans who have served are not just soldiers, they are our neighbors, friends, and family members.
As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I hold the men and women who serve this nation in the highest regard. They take considerable risks, and sadly, some do not return home. We must never lose sight of the many sacrifices made for the sake of our freedom.
Veterans Day is a wonderful opportunity to honor our nation’s heroes, but giving back to the people who fight for us every day must consist of more than parades and ceremonies. We have an obligation to ensure that veterans have access to the resources they need both on and off the battlefield.
As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I am proud to report that the Legislature funded a wide range of benefits and services for our veterans this session.
The Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) has a biennial budget of $95 million and works to ensure Texas veterans and their families receive all the benefits they have earned – offering employment and training programs as well as assistance with education benefits and claims.
Texas was the first state in the nation to provide health care advocacy services for veterans, helping them navigate the often confusing bureaucracy of the federal Veterans Administration. The state budget, House Bill 1, adds an additional $1.9 million to fund approximately 20 new claims counselors at the Commission. These counselors help with filing disability claims and appeals – and assist veterans’ families with questions regarding survivor and dependent benefits.
This session we doubled funding – bringing the total up to $6 million – for basic civil legal services for veterans and their families. We also continued support for direct services to veterans through the Fund for Veterans Assistance (FVA), which is administered by TVC. Since 2009, FVA has awarded over $137 million in grants to eligible organizations that have provided direct services to over 311,000 veterans, dependents and surviving spouses.
The Health and Human Services Commission oversees the $20 million Texas Veterans + Family Alliance (TV+FA) program, which provides grants to help those struggling with post traumatic stress and other mental health needs. I authored the legislation that created TV+FA in 2015 and four short years later, the program is currently serving over 12,000 Texas veterans and family members.
When mental health issues are left unaddressed, veterans can get entangled in the justice system. Thankfully, Texas offers an opportunity for eligible veterans to be diverted away from incarceration and into treatment through Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs).
VTCs work to address veterans' underlying issues, such as substance abuse or mental health issues, offering accountability and a path to rehabilitation so that they can have a healthy, successful transition from military to civilian life. HB 1 provides $5 million to support these courts across the state.
With the second highest veteran population in the nation, it is no surprise several Texas cities were recently ranked among the best for veteran homebuyers. Texas' Veterans Land Board offers home and home improvement loans to veterans.
Texas also offers incredible state education benefits, amounting to 150 free credit hours, for veterans through the Hazlewood Act. This results in over $270 million in annual waived tuition for Texas' public universities and community colleges.
With the largest population of female veterans, an estimated 180,000, Texas maintains a Women Veterans Program to create more public awareness, recognize and honor female veterans, and inform them of their benefits and services. And, under a resolution I authored, Texas celebrates Women’s Veterans Month every March.
This session we also worked to relieve some of the weight on military spouse’s shoulders by passing Senate Bill 1200. Now military spouses will no longer be required to repeat steps to obtain certain occupational licenses upon moving to Texas. We also increased funding for the Veteran Entrepreneur Program, which works with new and current veteran business owners statewide to develop business plans, secure capital and develop business fundamentals.
Of course, there is no way to fully repay our veterans, but in Texas we are making a strong effort to ensure that veterans understand how grateful we are for their sacrifices. Happy Veterans Day!
Senator Jane Nelson represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the highest-ranking Republican in the Texas Senate.