Texas now has the highest veteran population in the country

For years now, Texas has had the second-largest veteran population in the U.S., but now that is no longer the case.

The Lone Star State has now surpassed California as the state with the most veterans, but what does that mean for Texas and for veterans now taking advantage of extra benefits thanks to the PACT Act?

Sal Castillo, director of claims with the Texas Veterans Commission, joins FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren to discuss.

MIKE WARREN: Why the change in our veteran population compared to California? Why are we number one now? 

SAL CASTILLO: Well, I like to think that Texas has always been number one, but there's several factors out there that can attribute to that increase in veteran population. And with that, we've increased or extended services to our veterans out there. What we do experience is a lot of the veterans are taking advantage of the benefits Texas has as a state. And you know this, Mike, it has a lot of benefits the veterans are eligible for. And we've always been very, very supportive of our nation's patriots and heroes out there. 

MIKE WARREN: You know, talking about benefits. The PACT Act is now in effect. It offers a lot of additional benefits to veterans. Based on the population of veterans in Texas, what sort of response are you seeing as far as veterans coming forth and saying, give me some of these extra PACT Act benefits? 

SAL CASTILLO: Right. So what we've seen is an  increase of services provided but we've also seen a response from the veteran population out there. We've seen a tremendous influx of claims going out there. We're leading in the way when it comes to PACT Acts that have been submitted to the VA, so followed by other states. We are doing everything possible. We have a great supportive system when it comes to the legislators to provide us with the needs that we need to provide these veterans with the services out there. In addition, we are working collaboratively not only with the VA but our county service officers out there and other veterans service organizations such as VFW, American Legion and others out there. So it's a really work in collaboration with every other entity out there, whether it be state, federal or local governments and or partners of organizations out there to ensure that every veteran and not only every veteran but dependents and widows out there are applying for these benefits. 

MIKE WARREN: These PACT Act benefits, how many Texas veterans are not inquiring about claims and benefits? Any idea? 

SAL CASTILLO: Well, the numbers, we're still researching on it, but we're missing out a large portion, even though there is a large increase in claims coming in. We do identify that there are certain areas that we need to focus on. We understand that a lot of these benefits are for the Vietnam era, Gulf War and post 911 veterans. A lot of these individuals are still very much engaged in the workplace. So we're figuring out that we need to do more outreach and probably gear it more after hours and in the weekends. So we're working together to try to see if we can go out there in the communities and increase that influx of claims coming in. 

MIKE WARREN: Well, we wish you the best. You're doing great work for veterans in this state. Sal Castillo with the Texas Veterans Commission. We're out of time. We've got to wrap it up. But thanks again for coming by. 

SAL CASTILLO: Thank you, Mike. I appreciate the time.