State lawmakers discuss National Guard insurance shortfall, shortage of flotation devices

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Operation Lone Star on the Texas border with Mexico is a state deployment. For this reason, members of the guard there are not eligible for a death benefit if they are killed. That’s the situation for the family of Texas National Guard specialist Bishop Evans, who drowned trying to save two migrants last week.

At a joint state committee hearing on Wednesday, it was announced that Evans had been promoted to sergeant in honor of his sacrifice.

After a moment of silence, General Thomas Suelzer, who heads the Texas Military Department, admitted there was an insurance gap, not just for Evans, but for all other members of the National Guard and the State Guard.

“There’s workers’ compensation, death income benefit. It’s 75% of what your civilian job was. Paid weekly up to $1,058 a week. And there’s compensation state burial up to $10,000, but it’s reimbursed. one thing that I think we need to look at, and we fought for the last session, is immediate death gratuity. If anything happens to you on active duty. Because these families are struggling with, how am I going to pay for these funeral among us things,” Suelzer said.

Legislation to close the death benefit gap has failed in the previous two sessions.

“What we’re seeing with Operation Lone Star are gaps and things that really have always been there and now with 10,000 people there they’re magnified,” said state Rep. James White ( R-Woodville), who presides over House Homeland. Safety Committee.

White asked the general what could be done now to fix the problem. The committee was told that a quick fix is ​​apparently not possible.

“So our team came back and talked about what we can do tonight and the unfortunate response is I don’t know what we can do tonight,” Suelzer said.

In social media posts, former Texas Adjutant General John Nichols urged congressional leaders and state leaders to step up and do something.

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While state action may have to wait until next session, state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo), who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he would like that any death benefit legislation be retroactive to the start of Operation Lone Star. This statement pleased Jim Brennan of the Texas Coalition of Veterans Organization.

“I think that’s critical, I think the commitment is up there, not just from the chair, but from the other members of these two committees,” Brennan said.

The Guardian not only deals with the lack of insurance coverage, but also a shortage of critical equipment. The committee learned that an order for 235 flotation devices, placed in February, had not yet arrived. About 190 are currently spread along the Rio Grande.

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FOX 7 has been informed that the flotation devices ordered are a special design designed to help offset the weight of body armor worn. General Moni Ulis was asked why not buy enough for each member of the guard to wear, and if he was happy to have just one per unit.

“I’m confident that a flotation device, at the point of safety, is sufficient, given the number of occasions a service member has actually attempted to assist migrants, absolutely,” Ulis said.

General Ulis said they could buy 6,000 flotation devices for all personnel at the border, but not everyone is stationed near the water. In his view, this would be a waste of government money.

General Suelzer testified that members of the guard posted along the Rio Grande are told during security briefings not to enter the water. During the hearing, it was confirmed that Evans did not have a flotation device when he died.

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State Representative Eddie Morales Jr (D-Eagle Pass) asked if that meant Evans was not in compliance with safety guidelines.

“Sergeant Evans, now, was a human being, he saw a human being drown, he jumped into the water to save him,” General Suelzer said.

Representative Morales was informed that Guard commanders had not drawn up written protocols for staying out of the water.

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