By Ginger Simonson
March 22, 2022
There is so much to report on, I almost don’t know where to start.
March is a great time to start preparing for the next Texas State Legislative session which kicks off in January 2023. With the primary elections behind us, with many races already decided, House Speaker Phelan and Lt. Governor Patrick have already begun to set the stage. On the Texas house side, Speaker Phelan has released the Interim Charges which lays out the research and investigations that he wants each House committee to complete by the end of the year. You can find the full list of Interim Charges at this link: https://house.texas.gov/_media/pdf/interim-charges-87th.pdf.
These are the Interim Charges he has given for the Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs:
Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s authority and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 87th Legislature. Conduct active oversight of all associated rulemaking and other governmental actions taken to ensure the intended legislative outcome of all legislation.
Complete study of assigned charges related to the Texas-Mexico border issued in June 2021.
Examine programs and funding streams connected to services that improve mental health outcomes for servicemen and women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Evaluate the needs of veterans and their families as they return to civilian life, including access to employment, education, housing, counseling, and mental health services. Make recommendations to ensure coordination between state agencies to create a positive environment for veterans transitioning back into communities across the state.
The House speaker also authorized the creation of the House Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Reform and the House Select Committee on Health Care Reform to dedicate extra attention to the policies that influence outcomes in the state’s criminal justice and health care systems.
On the Senate side, the Lt. Governor has not yet released his Interim Charges but took some significant action by splitting the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security in two, creating the Senate Committee on Border Security and the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs. Border Security is his top priority, so he has already chosen prominent Military Veterans Sen. Brian Birdwell to serve as Chair, and Sens. Bob Hall and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa as members.
The MOAA Council of Texas Chapters has also begun preparation for the next state legislative session. We met in Waco earlier this month to lay out a strategy and began discussing our top advocacy priorities. I will be sending out a short survey asking you to prioritize what you think we should focus our legislative advocacy for the next year.
If you’d like to see my presentation to the MOAA Council of Texas Chapters, you can access and download it here: Presentation
What’s Up in Congress
On Dec 27, President Joe Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, for fiscal year 2022, which authorizes $768 billion in defense spending. Texas will reap a fair amount of funding and benefits from the FY 2022 NDAA, including:
$362.4 million for military construction projects in Texas (including a new barracks at Fort Hood, an Ambulatory Care Center and an Aircraft Corrosion Control facility at Joint Base San Antonio, and a Child Development Center at Sheppard Air Force Base))
85 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (built in Fort Worth)
$183 million for vehicle rollover mitigation kits (that are installed at the Red River Army Depot)
$42 million for the Department of Defense’s STARBASE program in Austin, Houston, San Angelo, and San Antonio, which encourages students to explore STEM opportunities with military personnel-
Funds the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber (which will be flown out of Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene)
Additionally, general NDAA provisions, will benefit troops and families who are stationed at the 15 active-duty military installations in Texas:
Increased funding for Impact Aid by $70 million to support schools educating military children, and especially those with severe disabilities.
Supports family readiness by ensuring access to high-quality childcare on military bases.
Raises pay by 2.7%
MOAA National has made some changes to its Advocacy pages. You can watch a video explaining how to navigate the changes here - https://youtu.be/prcIYFHFbj0
You can still edit and send MOAA crafted emails to your elected representatives on issues that are important to you and to the greater Military/Veteran community by going to this link - https://moaa.quorum.us/
News About VA Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has begun processing service-connected disability claims for six new presumptive conditions related to environmental exposures during military service. They added bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the list of medical conditions presumptively associated with exposure to Agent Orange. A few months later VA added asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis (to include rhinosinusitis) on a presumptive basis, based on particulate matter exposures during military service in Southwest Asia and certain other areas.
Any Veteran who was previously denied service-connection for any of these six conditions but had symptoms manifest within 10 years of military service would need to file a supplemental claim. Be sure to use VA Form 20-0995, Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim when filing. The claim form should include the name of the condition and specify that the condition is being claimed due to in-service exposure to environmental hazards.
For more information about VA benefits and eligibility, or how to file a claim, Veterans and survivors can visit VA’s website at www.va.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-827-1000.