Houston Chronicle | September 2015 | Elisa Borah
After more than a decade at war since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we now face an unprecedented challenge in caring for our military service members. Too often veterans’ spouses and families are left behind. Because Texas has the second-largest veteran population, and will have the largest number of veterans by 2019, Texas should set the standard for how we treat our veterans’ families.
So how do we exactly do that? In short, we need to address their families’ employment, education and mental health care needs. We must ensure strong community-based programs that are affordable and accessible.
Unlike veterans, spouses of veterans do not receive special consideration for employment and education opportunities, yet they deserve them as much as their veteran spouses. Many have delayed higher education or employment, or they have been underemployed, throughout their spouses’ military service because of frequent moves and absences due to training and deployments.
Congress has acknowledged the need for services for veterans’ families but little action has been taken. The House Committee on Veterans‘ Affairs discussed changing the model of veteran care in a 2008 congressional hearing where those who testified recommended that care should focus on the whole family, not just the veteran. But more than seven years later, not much has changed. So, it’s left up to the states and local communities.
It’s true that Texas has set the bar high by helping veterans with higher education access. The Texas Hazlewood Act provides qualified veterans with up to 150 hours of tuition exemption at public higher education institutions in Texas. But, we fall short for veterans’ spouses and children who only receive these benefits if the veteran died in the line of duty or several other qualifying factors. What Texas should do is extend these benefits to all veterans’ immediate family, regardless of the veteran’s death or disability status.