Texas official who called veteran cemeteries 'money-losing programs' relieved of duties

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The Texas General Land Office's chief investment officer has been relieved of his duties after he called Texas' four veteran cemeteries "money-losing programs."

The move came shortly after Texas State Veterans Cemeteries deputy director Eric Brown resigned in protest of the comments.

Brown said the comments by Rusty Martin, GLO's chief investment officer, reflected a pattern of state officials' lack of support for veterans.

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In a letter to GLO Chairman George P. Bush, state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa called the comments tone deaf and out of touch.

Hinojosa represents District 20, which includes two of four veteran cemeteries in Texas.

The state's four veteran cemeteries are in Corpus Christi, Killeen, Mission and Abilene.

"Comments that were made by Mr. Martin send chills down the spines of all our veterans," Hinojosa said. "They open wounds especially for our Vietnam veterans who were not welcome home after their service."

Hinojosa said he would request that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Kelly Hancock, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Border Security, consider an interim charge that studies the funding of the state veteran cemeteries program.

He also will request consideration of moving the program to be administered by the Texas Veterans Commission.

Brown, an Air Force veteran, worked his last day as the deputy director of Texas State Veterans Cemeteries last week.

He submitted his resignation on Nov. 10 after Martin said he was not comfortable putting money into a "money-losing program" at a status and funding meeting between the state cemeteries board, Texas Veterans Commission, Veterans Land Board and the GLO.

"I left because the problem is culturally rooted," Brown said. "This is eight years of being part of that culture. They're going in and changing the program, but the problem is the perspective has to change."

Brown said Martin's comments were the tipping point.

"This is the ultimate disrespect for those that have served," he said.

Brown believes the leadership change will not be enough and plans to continue fighting on behalf of veterans.

"It's public service, not a money-making venture," Brown said. "(Martin) is one of the highest-paid officials in the state. For him to have a mindset like that is very concerning to the veterans community."

Texas state veteran cemeteries

A groundskeeper fertilizes the grass at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene May 19, 2020. In the foreground is the first veteran interred at the cemetery in 2009, Walter P. Morton Jr.
A groundskeeper fertilizes the grass at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene May 19, 2020. In the foreground is the first veteran interred at the cemetery in 2009, Walter P. Morton Jr.

The veteran cemeteries were built through a partnership between the state of Texas and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and are managed by the Texas Veterans Land Board.

The cemeteries offer a final resting place for any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who dies while on active duty or any veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Funding for the cemeteries comes from profits raised by the veteran home, home improvement and land loan programs and the state's veteran retirement homes. The Department of Veterans Affairs also provides grants to establish and improve the cemeteries.

None of the 155 national or 150 state veteran cemeteries across the country generate a profit, according to Brown.

Since its opening June 1, 2009, the Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene has been expanded to 31 acres with up to 35,000 burial plots.

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Ashlee Burns covers trending and breaking news in South Texas. Laura Gutschke of the Abilene Reporter-News contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Texas veteran cemeteries official relieved of duties

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