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Meeting with commissioner, a hunger for IAVA in Texas

On Tuesday, Texas IAVA stalwart Jamie Wang and I visited the office of Texas’ General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush.  He may be the scion of a famous family but he is also a skilled and committed public servant, veteran, and businessman. He is the only veteran elected to statewide office in this veteran-friendly state and oversees the “most important state agency you’ve never heard of.”

In his position as the GLO commissioner, Bush oversees the Veterans Land Board, which offers Texas veterans a set of benefits unmatched by any state. They can be found at www.TexasVeterans.com.

We attended at the invite of former VA deputy director and now Veterans Land Board director Bill McLemore and Texas treasure and former POW Ken Wallingford, both supporters and advisors to new vets and IAVA members in Texas.

Mr. Bush asked about IAVA’s legislative agenda, which is completely focused on the federal level, and any permanent membership status in the state. I told him there was none and that, since IAVA relies almost completely on volunteers like me, who have jobs, many in the government or non-profits dependent on same, there wasn’t much room for that kind of advocacy at the state level.

It is not that we don’t care or have strong, well-earned opinions on these issues, but the combination of prohibition on lobbying by government employees and the bandwidth of national IAVA make it nearly impossible and certainly ill advised. I explained to Mr. Bush that because of the dedication and vision of the small IAVA staff in New York and DC, they often seem much larger than they really are.

I shared this information with IAVA leadership, who encouraged me to write this blog.

There are some big fans of IAVA in Texas, and very dedicated volunteers like Jeff Hensley, Jamie, Richard Delgado in San Antonio, and more.

Texas has more OIF / OEF veterans than any other state. By 2019, when Texas is predicted to have more veterans than any other state overall, there should be about 350,000 Post-9/11 veterans, with California coming in second with less than 310,000.

Those of us in Texas often cry out – why doesn’t IAVA have a permanent presence here?  I don’t know all the answers.  Part of the answer is money.  Part of the answer is the time of the volunteer set that grew up from the early days.  Part of the answer may be that a robust group of Veteran Service Organizations already exist here (see – Lone Star Veterans, an amazing group of folks with a lot in common with IAVA www.LoneStarVeterans.org).

Perhaps having a charismatic, elected official like the commissioner as a concerned member will be part of that answer. Mr. Bush at least considered our idea for a joint VLB-IAVA VetTogether.

I left Mr. Bush with the summary of IAVA’s legislative efforts in hand. He talked about particular bills, and he appeared to agree that we should not play politics with veterans issues. He seemed to appreciate that IAVA endorses certain pieces of legislation that afford veterans the benefits and services they earned, but that they don’t give carte blanche to any particular official or party.

We talked about connecting with younger vets and discussed social media strategies, in-person benefit fairs (which VLB is the king of already), and the opacity of different agencies to veterans (they don’t care about TVC vs. VLB vs. ADRC – just want to know what is there for “Texas Vets”), and how we at TexVet leverage our database with volunteers to match vulnerable vets with help they are seeking.

In the end, it was cordial meeting that highlighted the concerns of a fellow IAVA vet, the influence of this powerful organization and opportunities to do more.  And, he has the best view out of an office window since we visited with Rep. Chet Edwards in DC during an early Storm the Hill. He also has a buffalo on his coin – points for that – and now an IAVA one as well:

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