HARLINGEN, July 15 - Democracy in Action or at least that is what veterans thought it was when they aggressively sought a Constitutional Amendment to the Texas Constitution on Nov. 3, 2009.
In that election veterans pushed for the passage a law that would address the needs of veterans in rural areas throughout the State. Veterans had worked hard with their local state legislators to get legislation on the ballot. State Sen. Juan Jesus Hinojosa and state Reps. Ismael Flores, Armando Martinez and Ryan Guillen worked hard on getting House Joint Resolution 7 (HJR 7) approved. HJR 7 easily passed with unanimous support in the Texas House and Senate. The House vote was 140-0 and the Senate 30-0. The end result was Prop 8.
Veterans were victorious. Their amendment, Proposition 8, was approved by the Texas voters who participated in the Nov. 3, 2009, election. Proposition 8 authorized the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veteransí hospitals in this state.
This law passed and was signed by Gov. Rick Perry but, alas, no funding has been discussed. So this law in essence is moot. How can the state legislature get away with playing games with the health of its veterans? Did our politicians just pass this law to silence the veteransí outcry for help? The veterans who would have likely benefitted the most from the passage of this law were those in South Texas. They have campaigned valiantly for a Veterans Hospital for the past five decades. The constitutional amendment allows the state Ė for the first time - to work with the federal government on the building and operating veteransí hospitals. Veterans thought they had made a significant breakthrough. After all, the federal and state governments have worked on joint ventures before, most notably the building of veteransí cemeteries. A precedent had been established.
During the last legislative session Rep. Martinez introduced legislation that would allow funds from the Texas Enterprise Fund to be used for a veteranís hospital as proposed by Prop 8. This was done because the Texas Land Commissioner advised that if any monies from the fund he operates were to be used for a veteransí hospital, he would need legislation passed to that effect. Martinezís bill did not make it out committee. Martinez and Valley veterans testified before the House Defense and Military Committee in support of his HB 55. The matter was tabled for discussion to a follow up meeting.
So veterans have tried of using the democratic process but to no avail. Many South Texas veterans have ask, why doesnít the Department of Veterans Affairs and, for that matter, our state legislature listen to their requests for help?
If HJR 7 passed each chamber with a large majority of the vote, why canít one of our legislators file legislation for funding of Proposition 8 and its goals? Which committee would oversee this request? Are there any of our local legislators on this committee?
It is election time and this should be brought to the attention of all those seeking office. Perhaps veterans should stop letting politicians take their vote for granted. Yes, many of the local politicians know about the needs of the local veterans, but their hearts are not in it 100 percent. Even the City of Harlingen, which stands to benefit the most from a VA hospital, has not been actively in pursuit of this worthy project. Veterans feel that the most logical place for a VA hospital would be Harlingen. However, other sites could be made available if Harlingen is not going to help veterans take the lead. Veterans need someone to take the lead in order to secure a VA hospital. As I have mentioned in previous columns, Congressman Henry Cuellar has opened a path that could be the best possible way to go. That is through the VA Strategic Capital Investment Plan.
At the state level any of our state legislators can step up to the plate and work with Rep. Martinez to seek possibilities of getting funds for Proposition 8. Veterans must continue keeping on top of these developments. We cannot give up now.
Arturo 'Treto' Garza, a resident of Harlingen, Texas, served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and is a former co-chair of the Veteranís Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. He now writes in an individual capacity and not on behalf of the Veteranís Alliance. His Veteran's Voice column appears exclusively in the Guardian.