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Dallas County Judge Wants More Money For Veterans

Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Judge
Clay Jenkins, Dallas County Judge

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says he has three priorities for 2012: no tax increase; pay raises for county employees; and more money for veterans programs. KERA’s BJ Austin reports.

County Judge Clay Jenkins says with the troops out of Iraq and home, the need will be greater than ever for veterans services.

Jenkins: So one of the things I will ask the Commissioners Court to vote for is an increase in the County Veterans Services budget so that we can coordinate services for our veterans and make sure that they can come home to every opportunity we can find.

It’s very difficult to put a number on how many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are in Dallas County, or how many may be on their way -- mustering out after their final deployment. Dr. Clark Gregg is Chief of Staff at Dallas’ VA North Texas Health Care System. He says they’re already in touch with a very large number of Middle East veterans, and he expects a 5 to 8% increase in 2012.

Gregg: Right now from the Middle East conflict we have more than 27,500 veterans enrolled for care in VA North Texas and we provide care for 15 thousand of them right now, actively. And in both cases more than 10% of those enrolled veterans are women.

Dr. Gregg says VA North Texas works actively with the special Veterans Courts in several North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant. He says they work to get the vet the mental health or substance abuse treatment needed as an alternative to jail.

And, Dr. Gregg says there are two areas of special focus for the returning vets.

Gregg: The mental health care is one of the major emphases on this, including things like suicide prevention and dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.

And TBI – traumatic brain injury.

Gregg: We have an active screening process for traumatic brain injury. We’ve already screened approximately 12 thousand people for TBI and have identified 760-plus who have passed several levels of evaluation and clearly have traumatic brain injury related to their veteran’s service.

Dr. Gregg says TBI can require a variety of treatments and rehabilitation, which VA North Texas provides. Judge Jenkins says that rehabilitation can be slow, requiring “help” for the vet and his family. Jenkins wants Dallas County to do its part.

Jenkins: Now they’re coming home, and they need us to fight for them just as hard as they fought for us.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.