Although his campaign signs are black and white, the Democrat running for governor wanted to come across as red, white and Beto.
In town late Saturday afternoon with his People of Texas campaign, Beto O'Rouke spent the majority of his 20 minutes talking about veterans' issues and how their lives would be improved if he were elected governor.
The candidate, who has spoken here at a park, outdoor courtyard, historic theater and miniature golf course added The People's Plaza to the list. A sizeable turnout greeted O'Rourke and cheered for Linda Goolsbee, the Democrat who is opposing Republican Stan Lambert for the District 71 statehouse seat.
He knows the challenge because he's trying to become the first Democrat elected governor since Ann Richards - 32 years ago.
"We have your back," O'Rourke told Goolsbee.
Emcee Tom Watson, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress, surveyed the crowd and deemed it Betoland.
O'Rourke in turn noted Watson's service in the Marine Corps, and the return of Vietnam War veterans to America with no fanfare.
"You came back to this country, and your generation came back to this country from service, at best met with indifference or shrugs, no tickertape parades," the candidate said. "No 'Thank you for your service,' no pat on the back. At worst there was some real scorn and some misplaced anger at those who did exactly what this country told them to do."
And yet, it's the Vietnam veteran who is making sure today's veterans are treated far better, O'Rourke.
"Making sure they get the gratitude, the care, the services they have earned and deserve," he said. The World War II generation, he said, is called The Greatest Generation, "but I am so grateful for you and impressed with your generation.
"And so, thank you for your service."
It's time to help that generation of veterans, O'Rourke.
And here's how he'd do it
O'Rourke prefaced his ideas to help veterans by noting the nation's current struggles, including the Jan. 6, 2021, "insurrection" - "the first time since the War of 1812 that our democracy literally has been invaded by insurrection and sedition from our fellow Americans," he said.
"We have a slow rolling version of that through our statehouses now," he continued. "But this democracy is not gone yet, and it's not going anywhere if any of us having anything to do about it."
It's time, he said, to address "the big things we only can do when we come together. I can think of no bigger thing than being there to fulfill our end of the bargain for those women and men who served this country in uniform."
O'Rourke outlined three needs for veterans, then broke those down. He said his plan is based on what he has heard from veterans during his campaign.
Texas wants veterans to live here after they serve.
"After they serve at Dyess, we want to them to settle right here in Abilene, as many of you have already," O'Rourke said.
► HOMELESS VETERANS
"Thousands in Texas will be sleeping on the streets tonight," he said. That shouldn't happen in a state that boasts the "ninth largest economy on the planet" in the wealthiest country.
"Made possible, by the way, by the men and women who served this country. That is how we got to where we are," he said.
To end veteran homelessness, the state needs:
More housing. O'Rourke proposes a veterans land bank, acquiring land and property and bringing it up to code for use by veterans.
Full, wraparound services for veterans who need those homes. This includes mental and primary health care, job and career counseling, and access to higher education.
Property tax relief. The state needs to share more in the burden that has been placed on residents already saddled with paying higher costs for school and state-mandated services. Veterans with 100% disability have tax relief, but those with less than that, "have very little or no relief at all. With these property taxes, we are pricing and taxing these veterans out of their homes." O'Rourke would propose to the Legislature that veterans with level of disability get tax relief.
"In my first year, we could get to functional zero on veteran homelessness in the state of Texas," he said. "So much becomes possible when you have a house."
► REDUCING VETERAN SUICIDE
The conservative estimate is that 18 to 22 veterans take their lives each day across the nation, he said.
O'Rourke also broke this down into three areas:
Better use of state agencies. Charge the Health and Human Services Commission, which has greater manpower and resources, with the intake and case management for veterans to get them to the right treatment facilities.
"And stay on it to make sure there is continuity, consistency and positive outcomes," he said.
Legalizing marijuana. This would help veterans address health issues developed during their service.
"That veteran purchasing marijuana in Texas could face jail time if convicted," he said.
This would be for consenting adults and regulated, he said, so it stays away from minors. And taxed so that the state draws income.
If this doesn't fly with the Legislature, "I know we can expand the Texas' Compassionate Use Program," he said.
Expand diversionary court programs. This would guide a veteran who has broken the law to "treatment or training or something that allows you to get your feet back under you," he said, instead of going to jail or prison.
► TOXIC BURN PITS
"This is where our government has burned waste, trash, plastic, body parts, medications, toxins ... anything we want to dispose of and inhaled accidentally, not on purpose, by those stationed near those burn pits," he said.
These veterans return home sick for no apparent reason. The government has denied responsibility, O'Rourke said, like it did for 40 years regarding Agent Orange in Vietnam.
"I want to make sure we do the right thing right now on toxic burn pit exposure," he said.
What's needed he said is to:
Set up and fully fund a state burn pit registry.
Connect that to the PACT Act, federal legislation that addresses health care, presumption of service-connection, research, resources and other matters related to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during military service.
Provide accommodations for state employees who, as veterans, were exposed to toxins.
O'Rourke, before taking questions from those in attendance, also said it's important that the Veterans Administration "that still is still wired and geared toward men" provides equal service to women.
He said 10,000 members of National Guard were assigned duty with little notice on the Texas border.
"All of them I have spoken to and listened to so far say they want to come home. This is not what they signed up for," he said. "This not a real emergency, this is political theater in the state of Texas, more focused on somebody's re-election than on a real crisis or problem at the border."
Finally, O'Rourke said he came to Abilene from San Angelo and saw the devastation of the Mesquite Heat wildfire. He will be asking the 2 million-plus followers on social media to donate toward recovery efforts.
"We are with you," he said.
Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: O'Rourke outlines plan for Texas veterans at Armed Forces Day event