- Jonathan Tilove American-Statesman Staff
In a Veterans Day appearance at the American Legion-Charles Johnson House in West Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott 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, Bud Abbott, a Navy veteran, 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 that a local option be provided 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 non-profits 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 Texas 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.
The committee would be made of 22 Texas veterans, community and business leaders, including three representative each who served as officers at Fort Bliss, Fort Hood and Joint Base San Antonio, and one each from the other military installations in Texas.