State Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores does not consider himself the voice of Rio Grande Valley veterans in Austin, but many believe he should be because of his passion for making sure Valley veterans receive the benefits they have earned.
Flores spoke to a group of Valley veterans Wednesday, Feb. 20 about programs and business opportunities available to them during a roundtable business forum at The University of Texas-Pan American.
"I'm working real hard with the state government to get them to understand that I'm not asking for anything that these veterans did not earn," Flores said.
"I'm going to do two things this next session," Flores said. "I'm going to file two bills, health and veterans, and that's all I'm going to do. That's what my priorities are going to be."
Flores encouraged attendees to use their veteran's status as leverage when applying for loans at banks or beginning their own businesses. He also shared his experiences and success in starting his own business.
"Representative Flores is a veteran and a successful entrepreneur involved in a number of small business ventures, so he is an outstanding example and role-model for veterans who want to start their own businesses," said UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez.
Flores also applauded UTPA's efforts in helping Valley veterans through the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC). It helps service-disabled veterans apply and receive business loans as well as establish small businesses to become partners in economic development.
"They (the government) should be making centers like the Veterans Business Outreach Center here at the University," Flores said. "Centers like this should be made available to veterans, and a veteran should be able to walk in and get what they need, how they need it, when they need it and where they need it."
VBOC hosted the two-hour forum at the International Room of the UTPA International Trade and Technology Building.
During the forum, Flores also discussed the establishment of a Valley veterans' cemetery and its possible location. He authored important legislation passed during the 77th Texas Legislature to provide financial assistance for its establishment.
Following the forum, Flores - along with a group of veterans and members of the Hidalgo Committee of Veterans Affairs - met to discuss possible sites for the cemetery. The committee narrowed the choices to three sites in the Upper Valley - two in Mission and one in McAllen.
A final decision will be made later this month. UTPA will provide technical assistance with the preparation of the proposal being submitted May 1 to the Texas Veterans Cemetery Program.
"Representative Flores is pretty much taking the lead, and I believe with his support, we will get the cemetery here," said Jessica Salinas, VBOC director and committee member.
Olga Chapa of Edinburg, a U.S. Marine veteran, said she was very impressed by Flores and his support of Valley veterans.
"I did not know he was interested in helping veterans because sometimes politicians say we are going to do this and that, but I have it from several sources that he is a man of action," Chapa said. "One of the things that impressed me was the purchase of the veterans' cemetery, which I think will be really good for our community."
Flores is a successful business owner and member of the Appropriations Committee of the Texas House of Representatives and the Governor's Task Force on Homeland Security. He is a UTPA graduate and represents House District 36, which encompasses western and northern Hidalgo County and parts of northern Cameron County.
"Personally, I'm only doing what's right. I don't want to take away from anybody else, but it's probably the one thing (veterans' issues) that is closest to my heart," Flores said.
"I'm a fifth generation Texan, and I'm not going leave this earth until I give back my fair share, not only to Texas and America but also to the Valley, and I'm very passionate about that."