Senator Lucio's Letterhead

CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 11, 2009
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Veterans Causes And Issues Fare Well In 81st Legislature

One of our proudest accomplishments as legislators this 81st session was honoring our veterans through meaningful legislation that will improve their lives.

Mr. John House with the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) concurs by saying, "This legislative session saw many efforts come together to assist and support our veterans and their families. The key thing now is for us to go out into our communities and let our veteran friends, families, and coworkers know about the benefits and services available to them."

As a proud co-author of a bill sponsored by Rep. Kino Flores and Sen. John Carona that finally passed when amended onto another House Bill, I am thrilled that our disabled veterans will receive a well-deserved and much needed property tax break.

To qualify for an exemption from taxation of the total appraised value of a resident homestead, a veteran must either be classified 100 percent disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for a service-connected disability or be certified unemployable by the agency.

We adopted a Constitutional Amendment last session that was later approved by voters to allow totally disabled veterans this property tax exemption. However, the accompanying enabling legislation to make it possible ran out of time, so this session we passed this bill needed to complete the process.

Given the tough economic times and the rising cost of every commodity and service, disabled veterans will get to keep a little change in their pockets. However, the importance of this bill isn't just to save a veteran some money; it is to show these heroes that we honor their service and sacrifice.

Another piece of legislation of significant financial importance is one by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, chair of the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, which in addition to reorganizing the TVC to better streamline services, also directs the Texas Lottery Commission (TLC) to create and operate a new scratch-off lottery ticket just for veterans.

The proposed scratch-off ticket is expected to initially increase gross sales slightly more than the average new game because the TLC and veterans groups will be promoting the game to increase its visibility.

Last session the Fund for Veterans Assistance (FVA) was created to support a wide range of veterans programs in the state, from individual emergency assistance to peer-to-peer workgroups for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)-related issues. Proceeds from the scratch-off lottery game would be dedicated to the FVA.

Mr. House reminds us that "we can also let our communities know that they can help veterans and their families by donating to the Fund for Veterans' Assistance, which will provide for some of the unmet needs of those who served."

This session we also approved a bill that will direct the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to create a military veterans peer-to-peer mental health program--scheduled to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2010--to provide counseling to military veterans who suffer from mental illnesses.

PTSD is a leading cause of suicides for veterans ages 20 to 24, which is twice the rate of the civilian population in the same age range. DSHS can train veterans to provide counseling services to fellow veterans. It is better to turn to someone who can relate to the emotional wounds servicemen and women are bringing home instead of someone who's never seen combat or served in the armed forces. This method of counseling reduces the concerns about stigma or negative repercussions. Veterans will be able to share their experiences in a supportive environment without judgment, knowing that everyone participating has had similar experiences.

A bill that created a military voting pilot program last session for service members stationed overseas to receive their voting ballots by email was made permanent this session.

And to further honor the heroism and sacrifice of our military men and women, I proudly passed a bill that directs the Texas State Cemetery Committee to erect a flagpole and monument to honor military personnel from Texas who are killed while serving in a combat zone.

I am grateful to the Cemetery Committee for working with me in achieving this goal. The monument and flagpole will be placed in the military monument area of the cemetery, and the flag will be flown at half-staff to respect the memory of the deceased member of the armed forces.

It is now up to the Governor to allow these bills to become law or to sign them.

For more information on new laws and existing services, veterans and family members can contact or find a Texas Veterans Commission office close to them by visiting www.tvc.state.tx.us or by calling 1-800-252-VETS.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.

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