The Center for Terrorism Law plays a key role in our evolving war against those who would do us harm, working every day to protect American service members, and I congratulate everyone involved for 10 years of excellent work.
This has been a wonderful evening, but of course it's all bittersweet, because we all wish Chris Kyle were here to speak tonight.
Chris was an inspiration to us all, both in his service to his nation and his unwavering dedication to his fellow veterans.
He was an exceptional individual and is greatly missed, but his dedication to our nation's veterans is, thankfully, shared by countless Texans, including Dr. Addicott and Marcus Luttrell.
These individuals and those who share their mission have made it their life's work to help those who bravely stood in harm's way to protect our nation.
That's our state's mission as well.
In Texas, we will never forget those who gave every last measure of devotion on the battlefield.
We will always remember the courage and dedication of our men and women in uniform and doing everything we can to help them heal and successfully return to civilian life.
Our freedom is not granted by academics, poets, or politicians, it is the selfless gift of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
They're the ones who drop behind enemy lines, who take to the air and set sail on the seas without knowing which mission might be their last.
Their courage, and their blood purchased the free air we breathe, protected the rights we cherish and granted us the liberty that fuels us to always do better.
I have made it a priority of my administration to show our gratitude in tangible ways, as extending in-state college tuition rates to eligible veterans and their families and making Hazelwood benefits transferable from military members killed or completely disabled in the line of duty to their spouses.
We've authorized measures helping veterans deal with post-traumatic stress, creating mental health programs that utilize peer support because veterans can often best understand the problems veterans face.
We are also working to better connect employers with highly-qualified veterans who can fill much-needed jobs.
Last year we announced the "Hiring Red, White and You" program through the Texas Workforce Commission, which promoted a series of job fairs across the state, encouraging employers to hire veterans.
The Workforce Commission has also launched an industry-driven program providing opportunities for veterans to receive training and occupation certifications and supplying funds to lower the cost to both the veteran and the employer.
This initiative targets the Oil & Gas industry, specifically employers that need welders, drillers, pipefitters and truck drivers.
The program is meant to connect employers to unemployed veterans, veterans with experience and skills that will prove valuable to any business.
Some of these veterans already have specialized training and valuable real-world experience in these fields, but lack certification.
That's why we're utilizing competency-based learning which awards credit for those skills and experiences and dramatically cuts the time needed to earn certification.
Recognizing that veterans offer employers experience and reliability, hiring veterans is a practice that's already paying dividends in programs like College Credit 4 Heroes.
Of course, veterans need more than just job training, sometimes they just need to cut through the red tape.
Over the past several years, we've assembled strike force teams to help do just that and work through the backlog of pending cases at the VA.
To date, these teams have reviewed almost 13,600 cases and sent thousands back to the VA for an expedited decision.
Another set of experts are working on Fully Developed Claims Teams, helping veterans submit more than 5,700 new cases to the VA for expedited review.
To help coordinate all this, and more, we recruited Dr. Suzanna Hupp to HHSC, where she will lead a multi-agency effort to strengthen services for veterans.
As a former lawmaker for 10 years, Dr. Hupp is ideally suited to review and recommend ways we can improve services.
We live in a world where national security has never been more complex with threats from near and far, high-tech and low.
Navigating these threats takes a great deal of courage and a large amount of care.
The work you are doing will help shape our country's response to these threats, while always keeping the best interests of Americans and American service members in the forefront.
A man who I view as our greatest president, Ronald Reagan, once said about freedom:
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
Thank you for all you've done and what you will continue to do to help protect America's most cherished freedoms.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the Great State of Texas.