Ab­bott un­veils plan to boost health care, op­por­tu­ni­ties for vet­er­ans,

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Tilove Con­tact Jonathan Tilove at 512-445-3572.

In a Vet­er­ans Day ap­pear­ance at the Amer­i­can Le­gionCharles John­son House in West Austin, Gov. Greg Ab­bott on Satur­day un­veiled a se­ries of pro­pos­als to boost eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties and health care out­comes for Texas vet­er­ans.

“Our vet­er­ans, those who have fought on the front lines de­serve to go to the front of the line when it comes to ac­cess­ing op­por­tu­nity in the United States of Amer­ica,” Ab­bott said in front of a crowd of a cou­ple of hun­dred sup­port­ers.

Ab­bott was in­tro­duced by his older brother, Navy vet­eran Bud Ab­bott, at the event, at which Ab­bott also sub­mit­ted the pa­per­work to place his name on the March pri­mary bal­lot for re-elec­tion.

To en­cour­age hir­ing of vet­er­ans, Ab­bott pro­posed a lo­cal op­tion for com­mer­cial prop­erty tax ex­emp­tions for each full-time, newly-hired vet­eran. He also pro­posed a lo­cal-op­tion prop­erty tax ex­emp­tion of up to $30,000 for vet­eran en­trepreneurs start­ing a busi­ness.

Ab­bott also said that “Texas should ac­cept li­censes that are earned by mil­i­tary spouses in other states and waive li­cense fees they al­ready qual­ify for.”

Ab­bott called on the Texas Vet­er­ans Com­mis­sion “to col­lab­o­rate with busi­nesses and non­prof­its to as­sist home­less vet­er­ans with hous­ing, with em­ploy­ment, with bet­ter health and with sub­stance abuse coun­sel­ing.”

“I am propos­ing a com­mer­cial prop­erty tax ex­emp­tion for en­ti­ties that pro­vide re­duced-cost hous­ing or sub­stance abuse and men­tal health res­i­den­tial treat­ment pro­grams to our vet­er­ans,” Ab­bott said.

Ab­bott also called for full fund­ing of the men­tal health pro­gram for vet­er­ans in the Texas Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion.

“I also want to see more done to un­clog the back­log in the VA health care sys­tem,” Ab­bott said. “The VA health care sys­tem is a na­tional dis­grace. Texas can­not and will not wait on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pro­vide the health care that vet­er­ans need and de­serve.”

The gov­er­nor wants to pro­vide in­creased fund­ing to the Texas Vet­er­ans Com­mis­sion to work to re­duce the wait time for care.

Ab­bott said he would con­tinue to press Congress and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to al­low Texas to build a “Texas model “of car­ing for vet­er­ans that would al­low Tex­ans’ VA ben­e­fits to be used to visit pri­vate health care providers.

“Right now the clos­est hos­pi­tal to vet­er­ans in the Rio Grande Val­ley is nearly 200 miles away in San An­to­nio, Texas,” Ab­bott said. “That is un­ac­cept­able.”

The gov­er­nor’s plan would en­hance state grants to or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing le­gal ser­vices to vet­er­ans, and en­cour­age op­por­tu­ni­ties for state-em­ployed at­tor­neys to of­fer pro-bono le­gal ser­vices to vet­er­ans

The plan also calls for the gov­er­nor to lead a re­cruit­ment drive to dou­ble the size of the Texas State Guard to 5,000 to bet­ter en­able the state to re­spond to nat­u­ral disas­ters and other emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

And Ab­bott wants to cre­ate a tem­po­rary gov­er­nor’s com­mit­tee to pre­pare for po­ten­tial base clo­sures and re­align­ments.

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