The people who answer the call of our nation's military are a rare breed...people driven by devotion to their community and love of their country. They don't swear the oath for personal enrichment or individual glory. They're not looking for special treatment.
They've earned it, nonetheless.
In Texas, we've long enjoyed a special relationship with the military. In fact, today more than 1.7 million veterans call our state "home," and it makes no difference whether they were born here or came to love Texas while stationed here - We're proud of them, just the same.
The recent scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) underscores the need for all of us to remain vigilant in defense of our veterans. All too many veterans were finding themselves stuck in bureaucratic limbo, snarled in long lines, waiting to receive the basic care they deserve.
In Texas, we quickly took steps to provide what assistance we could. For starters, the Texas Veterans Commission added specially-trained individuals to staff the Texas Veterans Hotline (1-800-252-VETS), ready to guide callers through the all-too-confusing VA system. They're also steering the most urgent cases to the Texas Veterans Healthcare Strikeforce, which will work directly with the VA to help veterans get the answers and care that they need and deserve.
We also worked with health care providers across the state in development of a plan that would expand opportunities for more providers to treat VA patients.
While it's hopeful Washington will come up with a more lasting solution, this plan, in the short term, would allow providers to get paid through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, rather than waiting through the outdated Veterans Health Administration reimbursement process. The VA would then reimburse the Medicare program for much-needed services provided. This would cut the amount of time necessary to repay providers, which in turn means they can quickly start treating veterans currently waiting in line for treatment the traditional way.
The Texas Hospital Association has endorsed the plan and is encouraging its members to participate, but it would require federal approval to put into action.
We've always been willing to think outside the box to support or veterans.
Even before the scope of the VA scandal became clear, we were already putting resources into helping Texas veterans caught in the snare of federal red tape. Years ago, we formed Claims Processing Assistant Teams, staffed by counselors trained to help veterans expedite their VA claims.
Similarly, when we heard stories about veterans getting turned away from jobs they were qualified for - because they lacked certification - we expedited the certification process, cutting the amount of time and red tape it takes for them to put the skills they already had to work.
We also promoted programs like "College Credit 4 Heroes," which awards college credit for skills and experiences gained in service to our country, as well as the "Hiring Red, White and You" job fairs for veterans held in communities across Texas.
That's in addition to a variety of tax breaks and educational opportunities we've instituted for veterans and their families over the years.
We need to go a lot further to ensure our veterans are well positioned to succeed and thrive in the State of Texas, but we're off to a good start.