San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 4th, 2009
On Independence Day, consider what San Marcos can do for veterans

GUEST COMMENTARY by JUDE PRATHER

A wonderful change is coming to the academic communities across America and we must get ahead of the issue to better share in its opportunities. The Post 9-11 GI Bill starts this August 1, and it will be as profoundly changing as the original GI Bill after WWII. The New GI Bill has the possibility to have a huge economic benefit to San Marcos, and the more veterans who come here to use the New GI Bill, the bigger the impact will be. The Post 9-11 GI Bill will give a veteran a full scholarship to Texas State University, plus $1,153 per month basic allowance for housing (BAH), which will increase every year, and $500 a semester for books. For example, if Texas State enrolls 500 New GI Bill vets this fall, that will equal $576,500 a month extra cash coming into the town, not counting their text book money. This extra cash will pump into the San Marcos economy for items ranging from housing to shopping at the outlet malls.

The city spends millions of our tax dollars in efforts to attract tourists or encourage economic growth in hopes that it brings extra money to our town. Veterans using their New GI Bill could create a huge economic benefit for our town. San Marcos, located between some of our military’s largest bases at Ft. Hood and in San Antonio, is in a prime location for these veterans using their New GI Bill. We should be actively recruiting soldiers nearing the end of their enlistments at those bases. Placing brochures about San Marcos’ veteran-friendly policies in the out-processing buildings at those bases could help recruit these veterans to move here.

So what must we do to attract these veterans? First, San Marcos needs to become the most veteran-friendly town in America, and then we must get that word out to the veterans and soldiers, so they will want to move here. This Veterans Initiative is a start for our town to lead the way in America to honor those who have served our nation. Here are some of plans that could become part of the Veterans Initiative. Please add your ideas to make this initiative grow.

Veterans court

Soldiers out on patrol are seeing unspeakable events that they carry with them for life. As they return home dealing with post-traumatic stress, some turn to alcohol or drugs. We should take into consideration the special needs of those veterans when some of them end up in our local courts. We should have an all-volunteer, if possible, Veterans Court for San Marcos to meet these special needs of our veterans and help them live successful lives. Tulsa, Okla., has a good model for a Veterans Court for us to follow, and many other cities and municipalities have seen the need and have established Veterans Courts.

Housing

To encourage veterans to move here, the city should allow veterans to pay zero dollars for a utilities deposit if they show a copy of their discharge papers (DD214) with an Honorable Discharge. However, to make veterans more permanent residents, we should give a $5,000 non-repayable loan if the veteran buys a condo, townhouse or home in San Marcos. Further, any San Marcos resident deployed to a combat zone should not have to pay property taxes while deployed. Cities such as Jacksonville, Florida, have refunded the property tax of soldiers while they were serving in combat zones. It does not seem right that we should tax soldiers while they are away from home serving us, standing watch over an Iraqi street or an Afghan Valley.

If a soldier does not own property, like most typical 19- or 20-year-olds in the military, then we should look to Highlands County, Florida, for another good idea. They recognized such soldiers by becoming the thirteenth county in Florida to provide a $75 monthly stipend to their citizens who were serving in combat zones, as a token of their appreciation for the work our soldiers are doing over there, while we stay safe here. However, a property tax initiative may have to be approved by the Texas Legislature to be implemented, which will require advocacy by the San Marcos city council. Please think of other creative ways to address veterans’ housing and other needs, and contribute these ideas to the Veterans Initiative.

Jobs and careers for veterans

Since Texas State University is well-known for its College of Education, why don’t we expand on its efforts, to make careers in teaching for our veterans? At the Federal and state level a program called Troops to Teachers offers incentives and bonuses for veterans to teach in certain school districts. However, where this program ends and has its limitations, we should expand a local version here in our San Marcos school district to provide careers and incentives for veterans to plant roots to teach here in San Marcos. In other fields, temporary employment could be provided if we encourage local businesses and our Chamber of Commerce to hire veterans, once again encouraging veterans to move to San Marcos and use their New GI Bill.

Local veterans policy

San Marcos needs to make a shift in our policies regarding the needs of veterans.

Before I left for Iraq, I told members of our city council about the lack of veterans care in our city — that we had many boards and commissions but did not have a Veterans Commission. Our city has now created the Veteran’s Affairs Advisory Committee, which can be a seed that can bloom into many other ideas and programs for veterans if the Committee is not limited by unwillingness to change the status quo. I hope the members of the Veteran’s Affairs Advisory Committee are open-minded advocates who want to change the reality that veterans have inadequate care. We should make sure when our local National Guard and Reserve units deploy that they are sent off and welcomed home with honor. But most importantly veterans care needs to become a priority. One way to help make veterans a priority is to turn the Veteran’s Affairs Advisory Committee, which is an adjunct of the Parks and Recreation Board, into a stand-alone board directly advising the city council on veterans affairs.

It is time that we start serving those who have served. Our nation has been at war now for almost eight years, but those who have made the sacrifice have been few. The men and women that I serve with in Iraq are the salt of the earth. They have embodied the American spirit by answering the call to service and have volunteered to serve our nation in two wars. While we enjoy the comforts of home, they fight allies of those responsible for 9-11 in the snow-covered mountains of Afghanistan. As we debate the war in Iraq, they bleed on its dusty streets. Now it is time we match their noble efforts in these wars back here at home, not only because it could have direct economic benefit to our town, but because it is the right thing to do for our veterans.

This Veterans Initiative is a community effort. I am asking for your support, help and other ideas to make this Veterans Initiative possible. Thank you and God Bless.

Former Texas State University student and city council candidate JUDE PRATHER is currently deployed to Iraq and Kuwait with the U.S. Army’s 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry. He can be reached by e-mail.

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