Lucio Masthead Graphic
February 15, 2008
Contact: Doris Sanchez, Press Secretary
(512) 463-0385
Veterans Should Mobilize To Effect Change and Reach Goals

Government should assist and never become stumbling blocks to veterans' goals.

For example, the Texas Attorney General recently withdrew opinions on two cases declaring that a veteran must have been a U.S. citizen at the time of entry into the service to qualify for rights under the Hazlewood Act. The opinion meant that legal permanent residents who are not Texas citizens even though they had served honorably in the military could not qualify for tuition exemptions, which included 150 credit hours of free tuition at public colleges.

My goal is to co-author a bill with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee, during the upcoming 81st Legislative Session that will correct the unclear language "citizen of Texas," and reinstate the Hazlewood benefit for Texas veterans who serve our country.

But some obstacles are harder to overcome than others. To our South Texas veterans, the greatest challenge presently is getting Washington to agree to a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.

I was recently invited by the Veterans' Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley to offer them advice on how to advocate more effectively. Considering it's been 50 years since the effort to build a veterans hospital here began, they felt that sharing our ideas may get us further.

First I said to the proud members of the Veterans' Alliance, "Many of you may be asking yourselves how we can do this. How can we overcome the culture of complacency that plagues our region? The answer, my friends, is simple and known to every effective special interest group.

"Have you ever wondered why retired educators, law enforcement officers and doctors have so much political clout in Austin and in D.C.?" I inquired. "It's not that they are better than you. It's that they are more organized and mobilized than you."

Another suggestion I offered was that they meet monthly with fellow veterans from all of the Rio Grande Valley counties and consider forming a regional non-profit organization that would include county, city and school board officials. The organization should create a database for mailers and newsletters to keep everyone informed and interested.

No group can make their voices heard by staying home, so I also encouraged them to travel to Austin and Washington. Hence there is a need for fundraising for travel expenses.

Next covered on the agenda was the importance of developing critical issues. They agreed that they must identify veterans' issues, plus expand from the traditional issues to those important to their children, neighborhoods and community. The list may include the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), healthy lifestyles, tuition, scholarships, and public and higher education. Their stance on programs that promote economic development, increase skills training and result in job creation are important to the rest of the community.

Also noted in our discussion was that an integral component of their efforts must be the development of a legislative agenda. I explained to them how the aforementioned interest groups visit Austin every legislative year with their agendas that inform and persuade us to pass legislation that enables their causes. A veterans group would operate no differently.

They were encouraged to host a convention, perhaps annually, to formalize their federal, state or other agendas, and then distribute them to all their supporters. This tip included enlisting the help of the media, since the media informs the public, elected officials like me and fellow veterans.

I also strongly recommended them to register themselves, their families and friends to vote.

They were further reminded that after an election, it's important to contact newly elected officials to discuss their legislative plan, especially at the start of a legislative session.

We also covered the importance of testifying at the appropriate committee hearings, but also monitoring these hearings, keeping track of key legislators' voting records and writing an end-of-session report card evaluating the results.

I emphasized that by setting the groundwork for the next session/election, and with thorough preparation and organization, they will gain results not only for themselves, but for our soldiers fighting overseas. Today's efforts will pave tomorrow's futures for those who follow in their footsteps.

The Veterans' Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley, along with their fellow South Texas veterans, if properly organized and united, can put a stop to 50-year waits to get Washington's cooperation and attention. They've certainly got mine!

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.