Texas’ 23rd Congressional District has approximately 45,000 veterans across 29 counties, nearly 8 percent of our population. It is an honor to have such a large veteran community in our district, and it is part of what makes this such a great place to live. That’s why it’s essential for our district to take care of our veterans by providing access to high-quality health care and job opportunities.
Veterans deserve access to health care, whether it is through Veterans Affairs or in the private health care sector. We also do not do enough to prepare veterans for the workforce outside of the military. There are far too many regulations in place that hinder the transition from active duty to civilian employment. Solutions to these problems should not be partisan issues, and they do not require anyone on the left or right to surrender their principles.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted our entire country, and veterans are no exception. Unemployment among veterans jumped from a historic low of 3.1 percent to 11 percent thanks to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why I was encouraged to see congressional leaders introduce the Veterans Economic Recovery Act. The legislation, backed by over a dozen veterans services organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, would create a rapid retraining program to provide unemployed veterans and reservists with 12 months of educational benefits to pursue training in high-demand occupations. The education benefits are similar to what was done with the post-9/11 GI Bill. This is good, bipartisan legislation that we need to see more of out of Congress.
Veterans issues are not abstract to me. I grew up here in Military City USA and served 20 years in the United States Navy, earning the rank of Master Chief, the highest rank for an enlisted man. I served overseas multiple times in support of combat operations, including Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. My commitment to defending this great country and our Constitution did not end when I retired. I know that is how so many of my brothers and sisters who served feel, and I want them to have a more prominent role in shaping our public policies.
My time on Capitol Hill as a Defense Fellow opened my eyes to how important it is to have veterans in positions of influence in Washington. That experience convinced me we need more people in Congress who know firsthand what our veterans need from their government.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Trump Administration on the VA Accountability Act, a package of reforms to the Veterans Administration that made it easier to fire VA employees who failed our vets. In that effort, I saw what is possible when people on both sides of the aisle come together to solve problems. While I am conservative, that does not mean we cannot find common ground on non-partisan issues, like serving our veterans.
The 23rd district stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. We have all types of communities with different priorities. While different communities in the district have different issues to address, veterans’ issues are universal. It’s a topic that too often gets lost amidst the frenzy of the daily news cycle, but one that requires our attention now.