News veterans

State Congress just closed, and Texas veterans are walking away with a number of new programs and benefits.

As of Sept. 1, veterans and their spouses will be waived of application and examination fees for occupational licenses. A new grant program will support community-based mental health programs for veterans and their families with a $10,000,000 per year price tag. A pilot preventative services program will be established for vets considered to be at high risk of domestic violence as well as both a rural and women’s mental health initiative and increasing accessibility to counseling- both peer-to-peer and with licensed professionals.

The most notable bill, HB 867, established the first permanent state program for women veterans in Texas -The Texas Women’s Veterans Program.

The program has been functioning under The Texas Veterans Commission as the Women Veterans Initiative – started in 2012 with four employees. Advocates have since fought to make the program permanent.

The bill faced opposition – the Commission was not convinced of the necessity for a specific program serving women vets. Upon hearing testimony from women veterans in House and Senate committees, that emphasized their higher risk of sexual assault, the need for prenatal care and the fact that the program would run on existing funds and grants – the bill passed.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, one in four veteran women have experienced military sexual trauma – exclusively female spaces help women feel secure in a safe environment. Female spaces can better cater to the needs of veterans who are also single mothers and often need as much help with childcare and schooling as well as assistance with employment and housing. When women return from the service, they do not face different challenges, but potentially face more. The permanent title will allow the program to expand while increasing grant and donation funding.

“The program will continue to connect women with the benefits and services they have earned,” said Edith Disler, manager of the Women Veterans Initiative.

Through conferences, seminars and training workshops the program will provide guidance and direction to women vets who apply for grants, benefits or services, as well as perform outreach functions to inform these vets of their eligibility.

Disler also hopes to work with local entities to target the needs of women student vets.

“Women student veterans feel completely isolated,” Disler said. “We want to facilitate some sort of campus meeting.”

“It’s not that I’ve felt isolated, it’s just I haven’t always had help,” junior business major Bethany Grant said. “If this was already out there, I missed it. I mean, I know basically what’s out there, but I had a hard time when the semester started, working out daycare. I’ll definitely be checking in next semester,” she continued.

Alma Salazar, sophomore computer science major weighed in. “I came home and wanted to keep going, get my education, a house – that’s hard to do on your own.”

Salazar continued “There’s a lot of us here but we’re all busy. I’d like someone to make sure I’m getting the benefits I’m entitled to. Transitioning back to civilian life isn’t a breeze. If this can make that easier I’m all for it.”

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