David Wilson, left, and Jude Prather, right.
By LANCE DUNCAN
Hays County Commissioners have formed a veterans task force to evaluate the needs of county veterans and determine what additional services to provide.
The main feature in the county’s present service menu for veterans is a bus taking them to a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital in San Antonio twice a week. Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said the task force is to re-imagine county services for veterans, emphasizing the needs of new veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kyle City Councilmember David Wilson, a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Buda-Kyle Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said he is excited about what the task force might accomplish. Wilson said the effort stands to be enhanced by the inclusion of Bob Elder, a Buda resident and VFW member who spent 15 years placing job hunters for the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
Wilson said newer veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan often have more severe disabilities and psychological issues, which the task force should be concerned to address. Wilson said such veterans would especially need medical care, employment services and help dealing with the large amount of paperwork required to receive benefits.
“Most veterans love their country, and they just want to get the services that they deserve for their work,” Wilson said.
Bryan Hannah, a young Iraq veteran on the task force, said World War II veterans, the youngest of whom are now past 80 years old, have more general health issues than the younger vets. Hannah added that veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars are also present in the county, and that Vietnam veterans need assistance with health problems from exposure to Agent Orange.
Hannah said veterans of current wars might encounter health problems related to depleted uranium, which affect veterans from as far back as the Desert Storm conflict in the early 1990s. But the main issues for new veterans, said Hannah, involve their re-incorporation into society. He said tax incentives for buying land, potential housing programs, and a paid veterans’ advocate position in the county would all be helpful.
A county veterans’ advocate could help returning veterans with paperwork relating to medical care and benefits, and could also work with law enforcement to take veterans’ conditions into consideration.
Hannah said he would also like to see Texas State University work more with veterans. The school has more than 1,000 veterans presently enrolled.
Former San Marcos City Council candidate Jude Prather, a task force member who has been very active in veteran’s affairs, agreed with Hannah that the main needs for new veterans involve finding jobs, dealing with the university, and generally becoming part of society after returning from deployment.
Prather said Texas State has a Veterans Affairs center, which largely deals with educational benefits. While many of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have educational needs, Prather said they often have emotional issues after being in combat for long periods of time, and that the county’s VA service officer is the only paid position dealing with veterans’ issues across all fields.
One possible initiative, said Prather, is to create a veterans’ court at the district court level to help returning veterans with alcohol and drug issues into rehab programs. Prather said such programs, recently enabled by Texas legislation, have very high success rates. Prather said he would like to see Hays County join with other counties that are testing out the process.
Prather said he would also like to see a central veterans’ office jointly leased by Texas State, the TWC and the City of San Marcos as a “one stop” location for veterans to get help with whatever issues they face.
Prather said more county outreach in advertising veterans’ services would be helpful, because many returning veterans do not seek out help on their own, wishing to be “tough” and not burden others. Prather said many veterans don’t claim the benefits and services to which they are entitled after serving their country in a combat zone.
Prather said Texas State actually has more veterans than the University of Texas, and that San Marcos could benefit from making a name for itself as a great place for veterans to live. Between large military bases near Hays County and a new GI Bill giving full scholarships to veterans, San Marcos is getting new students and new residents who have guaranteed incomes. The GI Bill provides veterans with $1,200 per month.
Considering the city’s concern with economic development, Prather said policy makers would be wise to focus on these veterans and their secure incomes.Email | Print