Texans overwhelmingly approve VA Hospital Proposition 8 that has deep Valley roots, impact

Once again, Valley veterans and lawmakers have successfully championed a far-reaching measure that stands to have huge socioeconomic benefits statewide, but it especially improves the prospects for the construction of a U.S. Veterans Affairs Hospital in deep South Texas.
By an overwhelming majority – more than 75 percent – Texas voters on Tuesday, November 3, approved passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that authorizes the state government to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in Texas.
Proposition 8 was approved by a landslide margin of 785,775 to 264,250, according to unofficial totals from the Texas Secretary of State.
Locally, Hidalgo County residents favored Proposition 8 by more than 80 percent of the cast ballots, 6,477 to 1,542, according to the secretary of state's unofficial results on Wednesday, November 4.
In Cameron County, the margin was about the same, with 5,452 favoring Proposition 8 to 1,339 opposing that measure, the secretary of state's unofficial results also showed.
According to House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved last spring by the Texas Legislature, there are more than 100,000 veterans living in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.


"Brilliant strategy"

Sergio Muñoz, Jr., a Democratic candidate for state representative, House District 36, said that Valley veterans groups and local state lawmakers used "a brilliant strategy" to get Proposition 8 approved by the Legislature and then voters at the statewide level.
"The bill first passed by the House of Representatives specifically stated that the state government would be authorized to help build a VA Hospital in the Valley," Muñoz explained. "That measure was expanded in the Senate – with the approval of the House – to authorize Texas government to help build and expand VA Hospitals statewide, which virtually guaranteed strong support from voters throughout Texas."
Muñoz, an attorney and Palmview Municipal Court Judge, is seeking the March 2010 Democratic Party primary for state representative, House District 36.
Muñoz had strongly supported the passage of Proposition 8.
House District 36 includes Granjeno, Hidalgo, southern McAllen, most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr.
The passage of Proposition 8 clears any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley, said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.
Flores was the House lead author of the legislation, approved by the Texas Legislature last spring, that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.


Texans send "loud and clear message"

"Now we have a crucial piece of the financing equation in place to bring to the table to negotiate with the federal government, which builds, maintains, and operates VA Hospitals statewide," said Flores. "The people of Texas have sent a loud and clear message to Congress that we are willing and able to help take care of our wounded war heroes."
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200; Cameron County, 392,746; Starr County, 62,249; and Willacy County, 20,600).
Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, was also a House author of the legislation that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.
"In a matter of weeks, Gov. Rick Perry will be signing the final legal paperwork that makes the passage of Proposition 8 the law of the land, and that will have a tremendous political impact on pressuring everyone from the President to the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to get to work on improving VA Hospitals in Texas, and bringing a VA Hospital to the Valley," said Martínez.
Martínez said he will be working closely with two state major agencies – the Texas Veterans Commission and the Department of State Health Services – which have been directed by the Texas Legislature to partner with the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and other federal agencies to help bring a Valley VA Hospital.

"No surrender, no retreat"

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, served as Senate sponsor of the House measure that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.
He praised the key roles of Valley veterans groups, who have kept alive the issue of the need for a Valley VA Hospital for years, despite repeated – and still ongoing claims – that South Texas simply could not justify the need for a VA Hospital.
"No surrender, no retreat – that saying just about best describes the courage, perseverance, and commitment of our Valley veterans, who never took 'no' for an answer," said Hinojosa, a U.S. Marine combat squad leader during the Vietnam War. "Sometime in the next few years, when the Valley VA Hospital is being designed, the architects would do themselves proud by including a prominent dedication marker in homage to the Valley veterans that reads, 'We never leave a brother or a sister behind.'"
In addition to Flores, Martínez, and Hinojosa, the entire Valley legislative delegation put together a united front to push for placing Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.
Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, also were House authors of the Proposition 8 measure.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was the Senate co-sponsor of the Proposition 8 measure.
Lucio noted the need for a Valley VA Hospital.
"The VA finalized contracts with Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County and with South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County to provide inpatient, surgical, emergency, and mental health services to veterans enrolled in the VA benefits program," Lucio said. "However, there is still a need for a full-fledged veterans hospital. The nearest hospital is approximately 300 miles away in San Antonio, which is prohibitive for some patients."

Need for Valley
VA Hospital documented


House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved by the Texas Legislature and the governor last last May, laid out some of the reasons the Valley deserves a VA Hospital.
HCR 86 was authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and coauthored by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and sponsored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and cosponsored by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo,
HCR 86 follows verbatim:
WHEREAS, The men and women who have served in this nation's armed forces are entitled to ready access to the best possible medical care; and
WHEREAS, For the more than 100,000 veterans living in the Rio Grande Valley, the nearest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital is in San Antonio, as much as 300 miles and a five-hour trip away, and the lack of a VA hospital in the Valley has long imposed great hardships on veterans in that region and on their families; and
WHEREAS, Veterans requesting appointments at the facility in San Antonio typically wait months to be seen, even for serious conditions; for those who cannot drive themselves, or who cannot afford to drive, van transportation is provided by veterans service groups; the lengthy trip, however, adds to the patients' physical distress; no ambulances are available to convey veterans to San Antonio, which makes the journey especially difficult for those who are bedridden; and
WHEREAS, Once veterans arrive in San Antonio, they often wait hours for an appointment that may take only 15 minutes, or they may find that their appointment has been canceled; they may also discover that they need to stay overnight, which adds to the time-consuming nature of their trip and to its expense; and
WHEREAS, For veterans who must go to San Antonio several times a month, the time lost to travel can make it difficult to hold a job; the demands of such a trip also place a great burden on family members who have to take time off from work, and possibly arrange for child care, to drive a veteran to San Antonio, and who may need to make such trips for many years; the cost of gas and meals, in addition to the expense of lodging, if that is required, substantially exceeds the prescribed travel allowance; and
WHEREAS, The current facilities for veterans health care in the Valley are manifestly inadequate; the VA presently operates several outpatient clinics in the region, but these do not offer the full range of services, including testing and therapy, available in San Antonio; moreover, the VA has failed to pay the bills of many
veterans who have had to seek emergency care at a local hospital; in addition, although there are plans to contract with area hospitals to provide some inpatient veterans care, the medical personnel in those facilities are unlikely to have the necessary expertise in treating the injuries and psychological trauma sustained by combat veterans; and
WHEREAS, In recent years, local veterans organizations have formed the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley to help raise awareness of this issue; and
WHEREAS, Veterans who live in the Valley, veterans from out of state who make their home in the Valley during the winter months, and U.S. veterans who reside in Mexico all sorely need and clearly deserve a fully staffed, full-service veterans hospital in far South Texas; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby affirm its support for the establishment of a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward official copies of this resolution to the president of the United States, to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to thespeaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate of the United States Congress, and to all the members of the Texas delegation to the Congress with the request that this resolution be officially entered in the Congressional Record as a memorial to the Congress of the United States of America.

Legislative Media reports on major legislation that affects South Texans. For more on this, and related stories and photographs, please log on to www.EdinburgPolitics.com