Calling on the federal government to improve health care services for veterans, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday said that decreasing the wait times for veterans seeking medical attention should be a national priority.
“Those who have served in the United States military on the front lines should get to go to the front of the line when it comes to accessing health care,” Abbott said during a Veterans Day address on the south steps of Texas Capitol. “America must do a better job of addressing [veterans’] health care needs.”
The governor's speech followed a Veterans Day parade through downtown Austin, which featured several veterans associations, groups clad in colonial-era garb and several high school marching bands. Veterans were welcomed to come up the Capitol steps to join Abbott and other officials, including U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, and state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, during the ceremony.
Abbott said he was glad to see the large crowd, which included veterans from every war involving the U.S. since World War II. But he emphasized a need for veteran-friendly policies — not just parades.
“We know that a single day of pomp and parade is inadequate to truly repay the debt of gratitude we owe,” Abbott told the crowd.
In 2014, news reports revealed that a number of veterans on VA waitlists had died while seeking medical care, and that others had waited months for treatment. This summer, the VA said the number of veterans on waiting lists of one month or longer had increased by 50 percent since 2014, even as the department announced an almost $3 billion budget shortfall.
For several months, Abbott has been vocal in supporting a piece of federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and U.S. Rep, Rubén Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, that would add in-patient and urgent care facilities at veteran health centers in Harlingen.
“That any veteran dies waiting for health care anywhere in America is our nation’s greatest shame,” Abbott wrote in an op-ed in the McAllen Monitor in September.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler discussed veteran homelessness in his address to the crowd. Earlier this year, Adler pledged that the city would end veteran homelessness by this Tuesday — a goal the city has not achieved.
Adler made a pitch to Austin-area landlords, asking them to sign on to the city’s Housing Heroes initiative to help make units available for homeless veterans.
“It’s important that we honor all our vets, including our homeless vets,” Adler said. “To get that done, we need a few more heroes to step forward.”
Texas has the third-highest population of homeless veterans in the country — roughly 2,700 last year, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, that group is half the size it was in 2009, the study reported.
At the event, Abbott also reiterated his praise for two veterans in particular — Lt. Col. William “Ed” Dyess, a World War II veteran who died in 1943, and Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, better known as the “American Sniper,” who was killed two years ago. Abbott awarded both men the state’s highest military honor in August.
The two men shared “the common bond of uncommon valor,” Abbott told the crowd.
Disclosure: Steve Adler is a major donor and former board chairman of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.