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July 28, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee Visits USS Inchon

INGLESIDE - The 76th Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations took to the sea for today's meeting, reconvening on the USS Inchon, stationed at Ingleside near Corpus Christi. Committee members include Committee Chair Carlos Truan of Corpus Christi and members Troy Fraser of Marble Falls, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso and Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.

The committee began by recognizing the families of local veterans who had given their lives during the Vietnam War. The members were then welcomed to the Coastal Bend by Admiral Jose L. Betancourt. He asked the committee to examine issues that especially affect military families transferring to Texas, such as the high cost of Texas car insurance, state assistance in housing military families and making the process of getting a home loan easier for service men and women.

Lt. General Leon J. La Port, US Army III Corps Commander, thanked the senators for their support in the past and briefly reviewed the threats to national security since the fall of the Soviet Union. The general says rapid deployment is III Corps' specialty and that improved roadways from facilities such as Fort Hood to ports such as Corpus Christi and Beaumont are necessary so troops can get to the ports quickly.

Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) officials then followed, saying they have been studying which highways near military bases need to be upgraded and that they recognize the need. However, they warned that to upgrade just one particular stretch of highway outside of Fort Hood could cost $100 million alone.

Despite the cost and difficulties, the senators present all said that they expected TXDOT to move quickly on the Fort Hood road improvement project, that this was very important and the usual road improvement time frame of five to eight years was not acceptable in this case.

Al Speight, from the Port of Corpus Christi, followed. He testified that the port is increasing its capacity to assist the military. Regarding the Naval Station Hospital, Captain Elizabeth Barker, commanding officer, testified that demands on her facility are increasing. She says that with growth, the military health care system is facing the same challenges as the civilian network.

Brigadier General Wayne Marty of the Texas National Guard testified that education benefits provided by the last Legislature are very appreciated. He then briefed the committee on what the Texas National Guard's 49th Armored Division is currently doing in Bosnia. The general said this duty along with domestic assignments such as firefighting in the open range demonstrates that the Guard is an important part of the nation's armed forces.

Dick Masberger from the Kingsville Development Council then testified, saying that the Legislature needs to help protect the state's existing bases against any effort by the federal government to close them.

Abel Chapa, County Veterans Service Office for Nueces County and Adam Alaniz, Veterans Service Office from the Veterans Administration, asked the committee to support a new state funded veterans cemetery and nursing home in South Texas. They also asked that the Texas Education code be changed to once again allow veterans greater access to higher education. Currently they are restricted to taking a total of 150 hours without paying tuition under the Hazlewood Act.

The committee tentatively scheduled its next meeting for August 22nd in Austin and recessed subject to call of the chair.

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