McALLEN — The Rio Grande Valley has for years been without sufficient resources for veterans’ medical care, but Gov. Greg Abbott is hoping to change that.
If Congress authorizes more funding for increased use of private care by veterans, a model could later be expanded throughout Texas, according to Abbott’s campaign rollout to benefit military retirees.
“Texas should encourage the federal government, to the maximum extent possible, to remove barriers requiring veterans to use their benefits at VA facilities,” Abbott’s proposal reads.
Pending congressional authorization, care for Valley veterans may potentially be transformed. The plan calls for more jobs for Texas veterans through adjusting job creation and hiring provisions for economic development programs, such as allowing greater incentives for employers to hire veterans.
It also calls for legal services for veterans.
Abbott is additionally encouraging personal property tax exemptions of up to $30,000 for the first five years of operation for new businesses.
“For a small business with a lot of physical inventory, such as a restaurant,” Abbott’s 33-page plan states, “this tax relief could be the difference between an unaffordable dream and a thriving enterprise.”
The rollout emphasizes that there would be no significant fiscal implication to the state, but there would be an undetermined cost to local government based on local adoption. Abbott would also allow for a local option for commercial property tax exemption for veterans who are new hires.
“Each veteran newly hired for full-time employment would qualify the owner of a commercial property for a $15,000 reduction on the assessed taxable value of their commercial property not to exceed $300,000 per property, or 20 percent of the commercial property’s total assessed taxable value, whichever is less,” the proposal reads.
Abbott is also looking to increase options for veterans’ health care, by reauthorizing and funding the mental health program for Texas veterans at the Health and Human Services Commission, which would amount to $10 million for the biennium, according to the rollout.
He would also further support for the Texas Veterans Commission’s effort to address long wait times for veterans at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, in addition to doubling the funding —to $6.5 million — for the TVC’s effort to combat the VA backlog.
In regard to VA facilities, Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz penned a letter Friday to VA Secretary David Shulkin urging the VA medical centers to improve their quality of care. The letter cited three VA medical centers in Texas, one of which is in Harlingen.
Abbott’s campaign said Friday it was unaware of the Cornyn and Cruz letter.
The letter stated that Harlingen scored below the 10th percentile in care transitions, patient experience and ambulatory care-sensitive condition hospitalization.
Centers in Big Spring and El Paso were also listed in the letter.
“Has the VA conducted a root cause analysis to determine the reasons for the low-quality of care at the Big Spring, El Paso and Harlingen?” the letter asks. “If so, please explain the findings and actions.”
Cornyn and Cruz pressed Shulkin on further improvements to the three centers.
“At the beginning of your tenure, you committed to making the VA ‘the most transparent organization in government,’” the letter reads. “We commend you for this effort and understand the SAIL report demonstrates your commitment to that pledge. However, we must turn that transparency and these findings into meaningful institutional changes in order to provide veterans with the quality care they deserve.”