Programs serving military veterans in San Antonio and the surrounding area are getting a boost in funding from the Texas Veterans Commission, which awarded grants totaling more than $1.9 million to help reduce rates of incarceration and homelessness among veterans and improve their physical and mental health.

At the Bexar County Courthouse on Wednesday, Texas Veterans Commission member Laura Koerner awarded checks to the county’s veterans treatment courts, the Alamo Area Council of Governments, and nonprofits SAMMinistries, Project MEND, and the Salvation Army of San Antonio. 

“San Antonio is Military City, USA, so Bexar County and the surrounding area have a lot of veterans,” Koerner said. “While the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] gives a lot of services, Texas Veterans Commission gives a lot of services, we rely on some of the nonprofit agencies in the area to pick up some of that slack. This funding helps with that.”

Grants from the Fund for Veterans’ Assistance were distributed on July 1, and extend through June 30, 2020. Since 2009, the Texas Veterans Commission has awarded more than $137 million to organizations to help veterans throughout the state with money generated by the Texas Lottery and from donations people make when getting state licenses.

The Bexar County Commissioners Court received a $150,000 veterans mental health grant to provide clinical counseling services for 45 Bexar County veterans in the criminal justice system within the Commissioners Court-run Veterans Mental Health Program. 

The Veterans Treatment Court, a specialized court within the 186th Criminal District Court that promotes sobriety, recovery, and stability for veterans accused of crimes, received $200,000 to provide case management for 20 veterans accused of felonies.

The misdemeanor Veterans Treatment Court, presided over by judges from Bexar County’s 437th Criminal District Court, received $200,000 toward its programs aimed at veterans charged with misdemeanors. With those funds, at least 90 veterans will get counseling and case management services.

County Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said that over the last 20 years, Bexar County has “led the way in developing specialty courts” that focus on helping people in specific circumstances.  

“What we have begun to understand is that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” said Wolff , who is a military veteran. “But there are more tools than hammers. And when talking about veterans and their specific circumstances, or people with addiction and their specific circumstances, we need special tools for those people to succeed.”

The specialized help provided to veterans through the Bexar County court system includes mental health treatment, case management, and support services to help combat recidivism such as help getting a job or housing. 

“The recidivism rate in both the veteran’s misdemeanor and felony courts are significantly lower than regular courts” with no specialized focus, Wolff said.

The veterans’ program at SAMMinistries received a $300,000 grant to help with its housing stability program, which provides case management, rental assistance, financial literacy education, and support services to veterans or their surviving spouses. The program began in 2015 with the help of grant funding from the Texas Veterans Commission and has since received a total of $2.2 million to help prevent veterans from falling into homelessness, Koerner said.

Project MEND, which provides refurbished medical equipment and other accessible devices, received $300,000 to purchase more equipment for veterans and their families who cannot afford the items they need or are faced with gaps in insurance.

The program has served over 400 veterans, veteran dependents, and surviving spouses in 103 counties including Bexar, CEO Cathy Valdez said.

The Homeless Veterans Service Program at the Salvation Army of San Antonio received a $300,000 grant that will fund hygiene items, rental and utility assistance, case management and housing planning services, and transportation assistance for veterans in Bexar County and the surrounding area.

The Alamo Area Council of Governments, which provides support services to veterans in 13 counties, received $300,000 for housing and home modification assistance programs.

Taken together, the grants give local organizations the opportunity to “do right by those who served us,” Wolff said.

“When we can take the time and put the resources together to serve this segment of our population, it is absolutely the right thing to do,” Wolff said. “There are 250,000 veterans in Bexar County, we are Military City, USA, and these programs are perfect examples of what we do here to take care of our veterans. “

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.