The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a new generation of combat veterans, proven leaders seeking to help move the nation and the Republic of Texas towards prosperity. However, the wars have also left us with injured and wounded warriors who need a boost to get them back onto that track of exceptionalism they've come to expect from themselves. That track of exceptionalism is what many believe will set an example for growth and a resurgence of the American "can-do" mentality.
Some of those injuries are obvious ones. They are limbs amputated by improvised bombs, shrapnel scars, and other visible wounds. Other injuries are not so obvious. They come from the repeated exposure to pressure from explosions, mortars, rockets, and IEDs. They come from minor concussions from having "their bell rung". They come from taking medications they were told would serve as prevention of diseases such as anthrax, malaria, and leishmaniasis. The injuries also come from their brains being steeped and stewed in an environment where mortal fear was commonplace, and the need for hyper-vigilance bursting into action was necessary for survival.
For those who never served time in Iraq, even the fortified and protected Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) were not safe havens. For example, in 2004, Camp Victory in Baghdad was the target of regular mortar attacks and rocket attacks. Long-range mobile improvised rocket launchers would fire 127mm rockets from nearly 20 miles away. In addition, shorter range 107mm rockets would be fired from improvised platforms, set to timers. One night, over 30 107mm rockets impacted one of the camp's housing areas. Almost every morning, just after the sunrise call to prayer, mortars would impact the camp.
In 2007, similar attacks were happening regularly on Kirkuk Air Base also known as FOB Warrior.
They continued into 2010 on FOB Marez in Mosul, Iraq.
Al Q'aeda and the Taliban still employ similar tactics in Afghanistan.
So, even those who remained on relatively "protected" and "fortified" bases, the so-called "Fobbits", still saw combat, and lived with a sense of eminent threats to life, limb, and eyesight.
These created injuries known as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Combat Stress (PCS also known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD). It isn't a lack of resilience in this generation that left them prone to these injuries. They are just easier to diagnose and identify, now, than they were in Civil War times. During the Civil War, they called TBI and PTSD "Soldier's Heart". In WWI and WWII they called it "Shell Shock". In Vietnam, it was often referred to as "the 1,000-yard stare".
But these injuries do not prevent veterans from being productive leaders in modern. post-war times. In fact, they may even enhance other abilities. Veterans bring skills and an ability to handle stressful situations that non-veterans may balk.
At the conference, Governor Rick Perry addressed state-level programs and initiatives designed with the very intent of bringing veterans into a growing Texas workforce and economy. While most veterans do not want any handouts, many of these programs are designed to give them a hand-up. Veterans will still do the work for themselves. The programs just give them a direction and means by which to do so.
Here were some of the remarks Gov. Perry made in his speech at the mid-winter conference (transcript after video):
As always, it's an honor to be with you all, and a pleasure to be joined by my fellow elected officials.On a personal note to my fellow OIF and OEF veterans, never let anybody tell you what you can't do. Instead, show them that you can, and make them swallow their words with a Rip-It chaser.
Regardless of what office we hold, or what political party we represent, we stand united in our support of our veterans today.
Again, I'm honored to be here, among so many who have sacrificed so much for their country.
As I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone here Texas has always enjoyed a special relationship with the members of our military.
In fact, today more than 1.7 million veterans call Texas home.
For many of you, it's where you were born. For others, it's where you were trained or stationed. And, for a large number, it's where you chose to retire.
I'm proud Texas has produced so many American heroes, and I'm just as proud that we're a welcoming destination for those who might've been born elsewhere.
It's a natural fit for veterans, because Texans are known for our strong sense of loyalty and our unwavering love of our state and our country.
The Texas VFW, of course, plays a major role in keeping our state veteran-friendly...providing much-needed assistance to the latest generations of veterans, returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
You've each been instrumental in helping our nation's warriors heal and ease back into civilian life, and I commend and thank all of you for your ongoing gifts of service.
The freedom, the prosperity and the quality of life we enjoy in Texas, and in America as a whole, are possible only because of the sacrifices so many have made on battlefields around the world.
So it's only right that we, collectively, give back to those who have given so much to us.
While we can never fully repay that debt, Texas will continue to do what we can to improve the lives of our veterans, particularly by freeing them to make the most of the opportunities they have.
We all know the story of the soldier trained to run multi-million-dollar pieces of equipment in combat, only to be told they lack the certification to operate similar equipment back in the States.
Stories like those are why, over the last few years, we've worked to expedite the certification process for veterans, cutting the amount of time and red tape it takes for them to put the skills they already have to work.
There are employers out there, particularly in the oil and gas industry, who are clamoring for quality workers to fill jobs.
It only makes sense that veterans fill those jobs.
That's also why we've promoted programs like "College Credit 4 Heroes," which awards college credit for skills and experiences gained in service to our country.
Because no veteran should be held back from pursuing their life's goals because they selflessly took time to serve their country.
Of course, once they have a degree or technical certification, we need to connect our veterans to the employers who need them.
For that reason, we remain committed to the "Hiring Red, White and You" program; a series of job fairs for veterans held in communities across Texas.
In 2012 alone, these fairs led to nearly 3,000 new jobs for veterans and their spouses, each representing a life-changing opportunity for individuals and families who sacrificed for their country.
Sometimes, all you need to do is help a veteran navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of the VA. VA centers across the country have been overwhelmed by veterans submitting claims, leading to massive backlogs and needless delays.
So, several years ago, we formed a Claims Processing Assistance Team through my office, staffed by Texas Veterans Commission counselors who could help veterans expedite their claims.
Since August of 2012, we've been able to help cut the backlog from nearly 70,000 cases to just over 31,000.
Obviously, we have a long way to go. But we'll continue to work hard until this backlog is history.
During the last legislative session, we took another opportunity to say "thank you" to those who gave body and soul to their country.
We extended the property tax exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans to include their surviving spouses.
We also increased funding to treat veterans with mental health issues by $5 million over the biennium, because we all know there are some combat injuries we can't see.
With every passing year, we will continue to assure our veterans and their families that Texas is a welcome refuge for them - that the sacrifices they've made will not be forgotten.
We will assure them of the freedom to make the most of their lives and support their hopes and dreams, whether that's building their own business or climbing the corporate ladder.
We will assure them they've given enough to us. Now it's our turn to give back to them.
Once again, I commend the VFW for all you do for Texas veterans.
And please know, however you served your nation, Texas is grateful for your service. May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great State of Texas.