Senator Lucio's Letterhead

OP-ED FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 25, 2006
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0127

Iraqi war and social conditions affect Memorial Day

With over 45,000 veterans living in the Rio Grande Valley-and many returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan-Memorial Day takes on a deeper meaning.

As we pause to remember the veterans who have given their lives so that Americans can live in peace, we should also commit to improving the lives of our living veterans. What greater tribute can we pay to those who have died for our country than by caring for their comrades who remain in our midst.

Last year, during the 79th legislative session, we worked to provide services and create special distinctions for veterans and active duty members.

We expanded the Hazelwood Act, which allows for tuition and fee exemptions for military personnel, including all persons honorably discharged, who served for more than 180 days during the ongoing war on terror.

Many soldiers who fought in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts dropped out of school early. These men and women sacrificed their last year of high school to fight for our country, and never received their diplomas even upon returning home. We in the Legislature addressed this travesty by allowing high schools to issue diplomas to military people who dropped out of school before 1975.

To pay homage to our own brave men and women who served in combat, we created the Texas Purple Heart, among other military honors. These recognitions are for qualified individuals in the Texas National Guard for service to their state and country.

This interim, the Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations will be looking at issues involving overseas voting, veterans' benefits, and veterans' employment and education programs. I am confident that my colleague and friend, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, chair of this committee, will work hard to foster much-needed improvements and innovations for our military personnel. I will be communicating with her and the committee to ensure that the interests of our South Texas veterans are well represented.

As we continue to fight in the war against terrorism, and as we continue to lose our soldiers in defense of our country, I urge our Valley communities, families and individuals to remember and honor these fallen Texans. To date, 237 Texans, which represents 10 percent of all U.S. casualties, have perished in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We must also care for the injured soldiers returning from war, as well as veterans of earlier conflicts who sustained injuries. They require many services, but one of the most essential is first-class health care tailored for combat injuries.

Local hospitals and clinics have stepped up to the plate and taken care of our veterans with commendable speed; however, they too bear the burden of an increasing population and rising costs that strain their limited resources.

I applaud and support the offer by the former Valley Regional Hospital to the Department of Veterans Affairs to convert their facility into a veterans' hospital. This is especially critical if reports of federal budget cuts that may mean less funding for veterans' health care are accurate.

While the ideal would be to build a brand new VA hospital, a restored, fully- furnished, fully-remodeled facility would still be a boon to our former servicemen and women. Presently, Valley veterans must travel over 400 miles round-trip to San Antonio to obtain medical care at Audie Murphy Veterans' Hospital. Such a trip creates a hardship for patients who already feel ill, particularly if they are elderly. Our veterans have endured enough. They need and deserve care more central to their homes and one not requiring their families to drive them all the way to San Antonio or other towns.

So this Memorial Day we can evaluate the difficulties our veterans face and ask ourselves how we can help to improve their lives. As the son of a veteran, I continue to appreciate my father more each day, and I try to make his golden years a little lighter by seeing that he receives the best care possible regarding his health and other needs.

NOTE: On May 22, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a warning to all veterans about the theft of electronic data on 26.5 million veterans and some spouses of veterans. The information stolen pertained to names, social security numbers, and dates of birth. However, no health or financial records were included in this data theft. The VA is urging people to be vigilant and monitor their bank records and credit reports. For more information, please go to: www.firstgov.gov or www.va.gov/opa . You may also call, toll-free: 1-800-FED-INFO (333-4636) for more information.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385. Ms. LeAnn Gallegos, IRT Committee Clerk and Ms. Blanca Villalpando, Weslaco Office Manager, handle this issue for the Senator.

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