On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, communities across our state came together to recognize a critical part of what makes the State of Texas great: the women of our armed forces.
From El Paso to Houston, Brownsville to Lubbock, Corpus Christi to Dallas, and points in between, Texas cities and our state celebrated June 12 as Women Veterans Day.
As author of the Women Veterans Omnibus Bill of the 85th Legislature, Senate Bill 805, which included a key provision to establish Women Veterans Day in Texas, it gave me great honor to provide equal tribute to the women in our state who have dedicated their lives to military service.
It was almost two years ago, on June 25 of 2016, that I joined Veterans Women United in my hometown to attend the unveiling of a 12-foot, 6-inch granite statue of a female soldier in Veterans Park in Brownsville, Texas, as a tribute to the women who served in the military. I remarked then that Texas has a wonderful opportunity to come together to show the world that we will always be indivisible and provide the justice everyone deserves by showing equal tribute to the men and women who gave their lives for our freedom.
Building on that event, six months later, I was honored to spearhead a concerted effort to improve the standing, attention, and services of female veterans in Texas during the Legislative Session in 2017. I authored a series of bills — Senate Bills 805, 1677, and 1698 — which overwhelmingly passed through the Senate, and in the last days of session, were combined to form the Female Veteran Omnibus Bill of the 85th Legislature, SB 805. Working together with Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, we included a legislative measure (HB 2698) that was on the verge of not passing which strengthened our bill by allowing SB 805 to become the vehicle establishing Women Veterans Day in Texas.
This herculean task was a community effort with many partners, including the assistance of a number of key stakeholders and advocates. Most notably, the female veterans’ advocates of Catholic Charities of Houston helped make our recognition of female veterans in Texas a historic success.
Through my Omnibus Bill, Texas enacted critical reforms and initiatives that ensure women veterans in our state are made aware of the resources and services that are available to them; provide women veterans the means for equitable access to federal and state veterans’ benefits and services; afford women veterans specialized, dedicated outreach campaigns; and celebrate women veterans with the appropriate credit and recognition they have earned and deserve!
Along all the initiatives and reforms SB 805 establishes, enacted June 12th in Texas statutes as Women Veterans Day, the same day in 1948 when then-President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (which enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces).
Texas’ commemoration of women veterans reminds me of the words that President John F. Kennedy once said: As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them!
As women veteran advocates have informed me, regrettably, too many times have women in our armed forces (and of our veteran population) been overlooked because of stereotypes that suggest that all veterans are men. That is why June 12, 2018 marked a new day in Texas! There is no doubt in my mind that our Omnibus Bill, along with Texas Women Veterans Day, will be the catalyst of change in our state and will shift the paradigm in Texas on how women who serve in our armed forces are treated and remembered.
The initiatives and reforms established by the omnibus bill could not be more timely, since the number of Female Veterans continues to increase steadily. In fact, beginning on fiscal year 2013, Texas saw its population of women veterans climb sharply, and our state overtook California to boast the largest female veteran population in our country! I hope everyone agrees that not only should Texas lead the nation in the population of women veterans, we should also lead the nation on how we treat and remember these noteworthy Americans.
As our history books will report, on June 12, 2018, Texas officially paid tribute to our women veterans, whose service we continue to honor in our hearts, minds, and in our Texas statutes.