My family has always considered Veterans Day one of the most important holidays of the year. The proud daughter of a World War II veteran, I cherish memories of celebrating this day with my late father, Robert Gray. He told us of how it was observed in his youth, and how its observance has changed in modern times.
My father’s contemporaries — veterans from the “Greatest Generation” — received deep respect and honor upon their return. As our state and country begin to welcome home a new generation of heroes, many of whom have served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan, I hope we will show them our profound gratitude for their sacrifice.
Texas soldiers play an enormous role in our country’s military forces. Almost 22 million veterans currently live in Texas. 577 men and women from our state have made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 190,000 Texans are currently serving in our armed forces. And many of them will return to their families this winter.
This year the Legislature prioritized veterans and their families. 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. Totally disabled service men and women are eligible for a property tax exemption, and we passed legislation guaranteeing that right to their surviving spouses. Just this week, 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. War leaves deep psychological wounds, and many members of our military return home at risk for serious mental illness and suicide. For that reason, in 2009 I authored a peer-to-peer veterans mental health counseling program. The idea came from a veteran constituent, who recounted the difficulty soldiers face in dealing with psychological damage. He told me that only another soldier can recognize that pain, and I am proud of what this program has accomplished. For the first time, veterans can volunteer to counsel returning military, many of whom avoid traditional counseling or treatment because of stigma or out of fear that their problems will sideline them from military service. To date, more than 400 veterans have been trained as counselors in this program, and I have heard directly from some of them about its impact on their difficult return.
These efforts represent the Legislature’s pledge to our veterans. We can never truly repay these men and women, but I am honored to serve a community that respects their service. Today, please take a moment to thank a veteran. Pray for their families and for their safe return. Reflect on the boundless freedoms we enjoy because of their sacrifice. Above all, give thanks for the opportunity to live in a country where our liberties are fiercely guarded by everyday heroes. Thank you to all who have served our state and country. Thank you to the families whose sacrifices make their services possible. Happy Veterans Day!
Senator Jane Nelson represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.