After more than a decade at war since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, we 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.
How do we do that? We need to address families’ employment, education and mental health needs. We must ensure strong and effective community-based programs that are affordable and accessible.
Unlike veterans, spouses do not receive special consideration for employment and education opportunities, yet they deserve these opportunities.
Many have delayed higher education or employment, or they have been underemployed, throughout the veteran’s military service because of frequent moves and absences due to training and deployments.
Congress has acknowledged the need for services for veterans’ families but has taken little action.
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 the family meets several other qualifications.
Texas should extend these benefits to all veterans’ immediate family, regardless of the veteran’s death or disability.
Since July, under the Veterans Choice Act, Texas offers in-state tuition and fees to all veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bills.
Given the large numbers of veterans’ families who are moving to Texas to resume their education and pursue new careers, this tuition rate should be extended to their spouses and children.
The Texas Veterans Commission offers veterans much-needed employment assistance and training, including job matching and referrals. The state should offer these supports to military spouses and family members.
State funding for veterans’ mental health services has increased in recent years, but legislators should also allocateadditional funding for veterans’ family mental health care.
This funding should not be a “carve out” from non-military populations.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has begun to enhance veteran mental health programs through the creation of programs such as the Military Veteran Peer Network (mvpn.org).
It trains veterans who have recovered from similar health concerns to offer “peer support” to veterans in need and to help them access mental health care from veteran-friendly clinicians.
Programs such as this were developed primarily to support veterans, but they can and should expand to better assist veterans’ families.
Communities should organize around developing appropriate resources and building networks that address veterans’ families’ needs.
A much stronger and broader response by Texas communities is needed to embrace our military families for their service and sacrifice.
We simply have to do more for military spouses and families when we think of veterans’ care.
Elisa V. Borah is a research associate in the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin. firstname.lastname@example.org.