VETERANS MENTAL HEALTH
Senate Bill 55, authored by Senator Jane Nelson and Rep. Susan King, enhances existing mental health programs for Veterans by supporting community-based efforts. The Texas Veterans Initiative is an innovative pilot program created to address the mental health needs of Texas Veterans. This public private partnership will provide an opportunity for the state of Texas, private donors and local communities to collaborate and create enduring partnerships that share responsibility and accountability for addressing mental health needs of Texas Veterans and their families.
House Bill 19, authored by Rep. Susan King and Senator Donna Campbell, strengthens the Military Veteran Peer Network (MVPN) of the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) by enhancing mental health intervention services for Veterans. It requires the Department of Family and Protective Services to establish preventative family crisis support services for Veterans and military families and supports local collaboration of both mental health services and preventative family crisis support services. House Bill 19 formally codifies the MVPN program with TVC statute.
Senate Bill 1304 and 1305, authored by Senator Jose Menendez, requires the Department of State Health Services to develop a rural Veterans and Women Veterans mental health initiative as part of the mental health intervention program for Veterans.
The state also continued its funding to DSHS for the purpose of administering the Mental Health Program for Veterans.
VETERANS HEALTH CARE
House Bill 1762, authored by Rep. John Otto and Senator Eddie Lucio, codifies the current efforts of the Texas Health Care Strike Force Team within TVC and creates a permanent health care advocacy program for Veterans. In partnership with the VA, the health care advocacy program will strategically place liaisons in VA medical facilities throughout the state and work directly with VA staff to resolve access issues involving health care related services such as Doctors’ appointments, health care related testing and/or lab testing, pharmacy assistance, and attaining outside referrals for health related issues.
House Bill 3404, authored by Rep. Senfronia Thompson and Senator Eddie Lucio, directs the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct a study on the benefits of providing integrated care to Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study would evaluate the benefits of using a standardized comprehensive trauma and PTSD assessment to identify and target evidence-based treatment services to provide integrated care for Veterans diagnosed with PTSD. It also would evaluate benefits of involving family members in the treatment of a veteran diagnosed with PTSD.
TEXAS WOMEN VETERANS PROGRAM
A new program to ensure that Women Veterans in Texas have equitable access to federal and state Veteran’s benefits and services was formally created by the passage of House Bill 867, authored by Rep. Hernandez and Senator Sylvia Garcia. The bill established the Women Veterans Program at the Texas Veterans Commission, based upon a highly successful initiative, launched in September 1, 2011. With three Women Veteran Coordinators, the initiative provided services to Women Veteran in the areas of claims representation and counseling, employment, and outreach. By formalizing the program, the Legislature has made a strong commitment to the 177,075 Women Veterans in Texas.
DONATING TO FUND FOR VETERANS’ ASSISTANCE
The Legislature expanded opportunities for the public to donate to the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance (FVA) to help Texas Veterans in needed. House Bill 3710, by Rep. Cesar Blanco and Senator Jose Rodriguez allows Texans to make donations to the FVA when applying for a concealed handgun license; and House Bill 1584 by Rep. Farias and Senator Judith Zaffirini extends the same option for Texans applying for a hunting or fishing license. Similar pieces of legislation have been passed in previous Legislative Sessions, and they have generated over $600,000 in donations to the FVA. It is anticipated that these two new revenue sources will yield similar results.
This Legislative Session, the Legislature continued its commitment to assist Veterans interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Senate Bill 660 by Senator Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Cesar Blanco established regional coordinators within the Veterans Entrepreneur Program at TVC. These regional coordinators will be strategically placed around the state to assist aspiring Veteran business owners and those Veterans that are already business owners. Additionally, Senate Bill 1049 by Senator Donna Campbell and Rep. Kenneth Sheets increases opportunities for new Veteran business owners by exempting them from the franchise tax and fees imposed on the filing of certain reports with the Secretary of State.
Effective January 1, 2016, in accordance with Senate Bill (SB) 1049, the Texas Veterans Commission shall provide to a Veteran, who meets the qualification requirements, a written verification of that status in a form required by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Note: this process does NOT verify Veteran Owned status. The process merely serves to verify that the individual submitting their Department of Defense form 214 (DD214) to the Texas Veterans Commission in accordance with Section 171.005(b) of SB 1049 is an Honorably Discharged Veteran of one of the branches of the United States Military. Click here for more information.
The Legislature passed a number of pieces of legislation to improve employment opportunities for Veterans in the private and public sectors. In regards to the public sector, the state has sustained a trend of lagging Federal departments when it comes to hiring Veterans in positions within the state government. In response, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 805 by Senator Donna Campbell and Rep. Ryan Guillen, which authorized for the direct hiring of Veterans through the Texas Workforce Commission’s automated system, requires agencies to increase the number of Veterans in an agency’s interview pool, and requires large agencies to have a designated Veteran Employment Liaison. To supplement these new changes, the Legislature also passed Senate Bill 389 by Senator Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Cesar Blanco, which requires state agencies to place corresponding military occupation specialty codes on each of their job postings.
A permissive Veterans preference provision for private employers was also passed by the Legislature. House Bill 3547 by Lyle Larson and Donna Campbell authorizes a private employer to adopt a Veterans preference policy to give Veterans preference in employment decisions regarding hiring, promotions, or retention to a Veteran over another qualified applicant or employee.
OCCUPATIONAL/PROFESSIONAL LICENSES AND CERTIFICATIONS
The Legislature also passed a number of pieces of legislation that allow employers and industries in Texas to maximize the professional skills acquired by servicemembers during their military careers by enhancing the state’s occupational licensing laws. Some of those bills include:
- House Bill 2014 by Rep. Kenneth Sheets and Senator Van Taylor, allows for experience obtained through military service to satisfy requirements needed for a certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools.
- Senate Bill 807 by Senator Donna Campbell and Rep. Kenneth Sheets, waives the state license application and examination fees for military members, Veterans, and their spouses.
- Senate Bill 1307 by Senator Jose Menendez and Rep. Susan King, ensures that every military spouse, Veteran, and servicemember gets credit for their skills and have their occupational licenses expedited.
JUSTICE INVOLVED VETERANS
Unfortunately, there are times that our Veterans find themselves on the wrong side of the law. In order to better assist our Veterans and all parties involved in this process, the Legislature passed two measures. House Bill 1338 by Rep. Elliott Naishtat and Senator Jose Menendez establishes a training program for peace officers that provides information on trauma affected Veterans. Additionally, in order to better investigate and verify the Veteran status of every inmate in our jails, the Legislature passed House Bill 875 by Rep. Joe Farias and Senator Jose Menendez to require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and County Jails to utilize the best available federal data.
VETERANS TREATMENT COURTS
Veterans Treatment Courts in Texas have been successfully treating our Veterans who have found themselves involved with our criminal justice system as a result of the injury or illness they sustained while serving in our Armed Forces. Acknowledged by our Legislature, Veterans Treatment Courts received additional opportunities to receive state and local funding this session.
Additionally, Senate Bill 1474 by Senator Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Joe Farias, expanded the Veterans Treatment Court eligibility criteria by including survivors of military sexual trauma and providing Judges the discretion to include other Veterans that do not meet the statutory eligibility. This bill also increases opportunities for Veterans to participate in Veterans Treatment Courts by authorizing counties that do not operate a Veterans Treatment Court to transfer a Veteran’s criminal case to a county that does operate a Veterans Treatment Court, provided that the Veteran works or resides in that county. The bill also changed the formal name of Veterans Courts to Veterans Treatment Courts to emphasize the treatment programs each court offers.
Lastly, to ensure Veterans receive support from their families, House Bill 3729 by Rep. Joe Farias and Senator Jose Menendez authorized a Veteran’s family to participate in their treatment and service programs provided by the Veterans Treatment Court.
PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTIONS FOR VETERANS AND SURVIVING SPOUSES
In 2011, the Legislature authorized the transfer of the property tax exemption from 100 percent disabled Veterans to their surviving spouses. However, they unintentionally created two classes of surviving spouses. Those whose spouses passed away since 2009, and those whose spouses passed away prior to 2009. Because of the language written in law, the transferability of the property tax exemption only extended to those whose spouses passed away since 2009.
In response to the issue above, the 84th Legislature passed House Joint Resolution 75 by Dennis Bonnen, and its enabling legislation, House Bill 992 by Dennis Bonnen, to extend the transferability of the property tax exemption to those whose spouses passed away prior to 2009. (NOTE: this Act takes effect 1 January 2016, but only if HJR 75 is approved by voters by proposition.)
HUNTING AND FISHING LICENSES
House Bill 782, led by Rep. Joe Farias and Senator Donna Campbell, reduces from 60 percent to 50 percent the disability rating required for a Veteran to be considered a qualified disabled Veteran for the purpose of receiving a resident hunting or fishing license fee waiver.
VETERANS OUTREACH EFFORT
To better inform Veterans about the services offered in Texas, Senate Bill 1308 by Senator Jose Menendez and Rep. Susan King requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to provide Veterans who receive driver’s licenses and personal identification certificates one-page informational papers about Veterans services provided by Texas.
STUDY VETERANS HOMELESSNESS
Senate Bill 1580 by Senator Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Sylvester Turner directs the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the Texas Interagency Council for Homeless to conduct a study and prepare a report on homeless Veterans to provide for a more accurate depiction of the challenges that homelessness Veterans face and provide for a more viable solutions for homeless Veterans.