I am writing on behalf of my colleague, Senator Brian Birdwell, who was unfairly maligned in a recent letter to the editor. A 20-year decorated combat Army veteran and retired lieutenant colonel, Senator Birdwell has served our nation with honor and distinction. He has sacrificed greatly for this country. He was injured in the Pentagon when it was attacked on 9/11, and is still recovering from the burns. And as the daughter of a World War II veteran, he has my utmost respect — as do all our veterans.
Texas takes a back seat to no state when it comes to protecting our veterans. We pay state workers to help Texas veterans navigate their way through the administrative bureaucracy of the federal Veterans Administration and to prevent them from being exploited. We provide peer counseling under a program I created in 2009. Our next budget will include $20 million to help communities across the state care for their returning warriors with mental health issues.
For nearly a century, Texas has provided tuition benefits to veterans. In 2009, we added a legacy benefit to the Hazlewood Act, allowing veterans who had enlisted in Texas to pass their tuition benefit on to their children. A court recently ruled that Texas cannot limit the program to those who enlisted in Texas, which expanded the program in ways the Legislature never envisioned and could have a price tag as large as $2 billion per year.
There is much misinformation circulating about Senator Birdwell’s SB 1735 relating to Hazlewood. This bill expands the eligibility criteria for tuition benefits to include any veterans who were Texas residents when they enlisted, as well as any veteran who has established and maintained residency in Texas for eight years. It preserves the legacy benefit for veterans who were killed in action, 100 percent disabled or served six years in active and reserve military and meet the aforementioned residency requirement. This Texas benefit to the children of veterans has a more generous eligibility requirement than the criteria for the federal GI bill.
This legislation will preserve these important benefits for veterans and their families for years to come. I am grateful to Senator Birdwell for his hard work on this issue — and his service to our country.
Senator Jane Nelson
Flower Mound, TX