Texas will put vet­er­ans first with ar­ray of ser­vices

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - VIEWPOINTS - GOV. GREG AB­BOTT Spe­cial Contributor

Yes­ter­day, on Vet­er­ans Day, Amer­i­cans came to­gether to honor the brave men and women who have served on the front lines to de­fend our free­doms.

They have our ev­er­last­ing grat­i­tude, but they have earned so much more.

That is why yes­ter­day I un­veiled my Front of the Line vet­er­ans plan. The men and women who served on the front lines de­serve to go to the front of the line and re­ceive the best ser­vices Texas can pro­vide.

That starts by cre­at­ing greater eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for our vet­er­ans. They have the skills and the drive to suc­ceed. Now, we must en­sure they have ac­cess to the job op­por­tu­ni­ties that Texas has to of­fer.

Un­der my plan, lo­cal gov­ern­ments will have the op­tion to pro­vide prop­erty tax re­lief to busi­nesses for each vet­eran who is newly hired for a full-time job. This will ex­pand eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity for our vet­er­ans while help­ing busi­nesses main­tain a qual­ity workforce.

And we can­not for­get the spouses of our vet­er­ans who have also made tremen­dous sac­ri­fices. Many of them have held jobs out­side of the state of Texas and must go through a costly li­cens­ing process to get those same jobs here in Texas. I’m propos­ing that Texas waive li­cens­ing fees for mil­i­tary and vet­eran spouses for jobs they al­ready qual­ify for.

In ad­di­tion to cre­at­ing more job op­por­tu­ni­ties for vet­er­ans, we should en­cour­age more vet­er­ans to start their own busi­ness.

We can achieve this by estab­lish­ing an op­tion for lo­cal gov­ern­ments to give prop­erty tax re­lief to vet­eran en­trepreneurs dur­ing their busi­ness’s first five years of op­er­a­tion. This pro­gram would spur eco­nomic growth and help many vet­er­ans re­al­ize their dream of own­ing a busi­ness.

How­ever, some vet­er­ans need more than eco­nomic sup­port.

Many are liv­ing on the streets or fac­ing sub­stance abuse and men­tal health prob­lems. We must em­power our vet­er­ans with the proper tools to over­come these chal­lenges.

This will re­quire more than gov­ern­ment ac­tion. That is why I am chal­leng­ing groups through­out Texas to sup­port these vet­er­ans.

To in­cen­tivize this sup­port, Texas would in­clude giv­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments the op­tion to pro­vide prop­erty tax re­lief for en­ti­ties that pro­vide or pay for at least $5,000 in hous­ing or sub­stance abuse and men­tal health treat­ment ser­vices to vet­er­ans each year.

Fi­nally, we must en­sure that vet­er­ans in Texas have greater ac­cess to health care. That in­cludes men­tal health ser­vices, es­pe­cially for vet­er­ans suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. That is why I am call­ing for the reau­tho­riza­tion and full fund­ing of the men­tal health pro­gram for Texas vet­er­ans at the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mis­sion. This will help vet­er­ans fac­ing men­tal health is­sues get the nec­es­sary treat­ment.

One of the big­gest health care chal­lenges fac­ing vet­er­ans is the back­log of claims at the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­eran Af­fairs.

Texas must lead the way in clear­ing the back­log and pro­vid­ing health care to vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. That’s why I am propos­ing that we in­crease cur­rent fund­ing from $13.5 mil­lion to $20 mil­lion for the Texas Vet­er­ans Com­mis­sion to com­bat the back­log at the VA.

We must also fo­cus on ex­pand­ing health care op­tions for our vet­er­ans.

Un­der my plan, Texas will urge the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to al­low Texas vet­er­ans to use VA funds for pri­vate in­sur­ance and pri­vate health care providers. This will al­low our vet­er­ans the free­dom to seek out the best health care for them and their fam­i­lies.

With my Front of the Line plan, I am pledg­ing to fight for the men and women who fought for us. To­gether, we will en­sure that our vet­er­ans re­ceive the honor and sup­port they’ve earned.

RALPH BARRERA / AMERICANSTATESMAN

East Austin’s Richard Over­ton, 111, is the old­est liv­ing U.S. vet­eran. Gov. Greg Ab­bott aims to help Texas vet­er­ans.

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