During the last session, I was honored to author legislation designating March as Female Veterans Month in Texas. This year, we commemorate their service as a state for the first time.
We can never fully express our gratitude to the Texas women who have served our country with selfless bravery. The proud daughter of a World War II veteran, my father instilled in me a reverence for love of country and military service. War impacts veterans in vastly different ways. As a mother, wife, sister, daughter, and grandmother, I have a deep passion for supporting the women who risk their lives for my family’s safety.
Texas is home to more than 150,000 female veterans – the second highest in the nation. As many of those women return to Texas from Afghanistan and Iraq – some knowing that their homecoming may be cut short by their next mission – we need to support them.
Last year, I was privileged to meet with members of Grace After Fire, a non-profit created in 2002 to help connect female veterans with services available to them. A crisis hotline revealed troubling data about the challenges facing our servicewomen upon their return from combat experience. Nearly three out of four suffered mental or psychological trauma. Approximately 80% battle drug or alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress, a traumatic brain injury, or sexual assault.
The Legislature prioritized veterans and their families during the last session. I authored a measure giving special recognition to female members of our military, who face unique challenges. Our budget increases veterans assistance funding by more than 16 percent, and I fought to fund a position within the Texas Veterans Commission that, for the first time, works specifically to meet the needs of female veterans. Under existing law, totally disabled service men and women are eligible for a property tax exemption, and we passed legislation guaranteeing that right to their surviving spouses. In November, Texans overwhelmingly approved this change to our Constitution. Many veterans came to lawmakers with complaints about cumbersome paperwork requirements, so we created a distinction for veteran drivers licenses to ease that burden.?
One of the most pressing issues facing our veterans is access to mental health services. This session we continued a peer-to-peer veterans mental health counseling program I authored in 2009. The idea came from a veteran constituent, who impressed upon me that only a soldier can truly understand the pain of a fellow soldier. Through this initiative, veterans can volunteer to counsel returning military members, many of whom avoid traditional counseling because of stigma or out of concern that treatment may sideline them from military service. More than 400 veterans have been trained as counselors in this program, and the Senate’s Veterans Affairs committee will conduct an interim study, looking at ways to expand and improve it.
All Texas veterans have earned our respect and humble gratitude. This month we express our gratitude to the women of our armed forces, whose unique experience deserves recognition. They are our sisters, wives, mothers, and daughters. Please join me in thanking these brave women, saluting the families who wait for their return, and remembering those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country.
Senator Jane Nelson represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.