Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

OP-ED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 5, 2009
Contact: Janet Elliott (512) 463-0112

Veterans Deserve Our Respect, Assistance

As the daughter of a World War II infantryman, Veterans Day has always been one of the most important holidays in our family. My late father, Robert Gray, loved to tell us about the Veterans Days of his youth -- which he said were much bigger events than they are today. The day began with a parade, led by Civil War Veterans, followed by Spanish American War heroes, then the young World War I Veterans trailed.

He talked about leaving his young wife and two babies and how difficult it was for the families because so many loved ones did not return. He talked about the love of country that existed then -- something he thought had almost evaporated until he saw flags flying again after the September 11 attack.

As we celebrate Veterans Day this year, I hope everyone will remember those veterans of World War II -- the ones Tom Brokaw recalls as part of "The Greatest Generation." There are fewer walking among us today, and we must never forget the sacrifices they made to make our nation so great.

Veterans of every American conflict deserve our respect. In Texas we are blessed to have more than 1.7 million veterans living in our state. Many are still serving our nation in conflicts overseas. For them, we commit to supporting our enlisted military personnel and their families -- through charity and support services.

Earlier this year the Legislature made it a priority to support our veterans and their families. Legislation was approved to help expand access to higher education, provide job training and make it easier to finance the purchase of a home. In addition, lawmakers passed two bills I authored strengthening mental health services for veterans and custody rights for military parents.

Unfortunately, a third of service men and women returning from Iraq are coming home with psychological wounds from war. Veterans ages 20 through 24 have a suicide rate 2 to 4 times higher than civilians their same age. SB 1325 establishes a peer-to-peer mental health intervention program. This will allow veterans to sign up to become peer counselors for 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.

Counseling from fellow veterans will help overcome those issues. No one has any rank or is a superior. Veterans can learn and share their experiences in a supportive environment without judgment, knowing that their peer counselor can relate.

We also passed important legislation to support the rights of military parents. Unfortunately the stress of war has taken a toll on many marriages. I was appalled to learn that some of our soldiers were returning from active duty to learn that a court had construed their military service as abandonment and modified their custody and visitation rights. My SB 279, which passed overwhelmingly, ensures that no court can construe military service as abandonment. Military service should be honored -- not used against our military personnel in court.

These legislative efforts underscore the challenges our veterans face while serving their country. We can never truly repay them for their sacrifices. But this Veterans Day, we can rekindle the patriotic spirit that was so important to my father's generation. We can honor our military. And we can show our appreciation for keeping us safe and free.

Freedom, like the air we breathe, is easy to take for granted. But make no mistake. It comes with a heavy price. Thank you to all our soldiers, past and present. Thank you to our military families. 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.

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