WESLACO, July 17 - State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez says President Obama should make time to meet with Rio Grande Valley veterans during his visit to San Antonio today.
“Without question, President Obama needs to make time to meet with our Valley veterans. They made time for us so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms we have. We need to give them the respect they deserve,” said Martinez, D-Weslaco.
Martinez met with members of America’s Last Patrol, the American GI Forum, and other veterans’ groups before they set out from Weslaco on Monday to travel to San Antonio. The veterans want to press the president on his promise to construct a VA hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.
Also present at the send-off in Weslaco were two potential congressional candidates. Don De Leon, of Brownsville, is hoping to be on the ballot as an Independent for Congressional District 34. Benjamin Perez, of McAllen, is hoping to be on the ballot as an Independent for Congressional District 15. Both are waiting to hear from the Secretary of State on whether they have collected enough signatures to be on the ballot.
“We are with the veterans 100 percent,” De Leon said. Perez said he would be meeting up with the veterans in San Antonio. “The president needs to deliver on his promise,” Perez said.
The veterans traveling to San Antonio admitted that their chances of meeting Obama are slim because most cannot afford the price of admission to hear his lunchtime speech at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Tickets cost a minimum of $250 a person.
“From what we understand there is public parking near the convention center. We will get as close to the president as we can. We will make ourselves noticed,” said Jose Maria Vasquez, commander of America’s Last Patrol.
Lydia Caballero, another member of America’s Last Patrol, said she would be attending the president’s luncheon. “We are going to try to meet with the president. We want to remind him of the promise he made,” Caballero said.
When he was running for president in 2008, Obama promised to deliver a VA hospital for the Valley in speeches in Edinburg, San Antonio, and Austin. In the three and a half years he has been in office, Obama has got the VA to greatly expand its super clinic in Harlingen. However, the clinic does not have an emergency room and does not have in-patient beds. The nearest VA hospital is in San Antonio. Valley veterans complain that the four or five hour each-way trip is too arduous for those suffering illness.
“We have to remind the president of the promise he made our veteran community,” Vasquez said. “When you give a promise it is your word of honor. Where is your honor, Mr. President? Is it any good? Why should the Valley vote for you again if you do not keep your word?”
Vasquez said there is still time for the president to issue an executive order before the November general election commanding the VA to build a hospital in the Valley. He said the numbers are there.
“We have 120,000 veterans in our region. Multiply that by two, to include spouses and that’s 240,000 votes, plus the children of veterans. There are easily a quarter of a million votes to be won by doing the right thing. Veterans do not take kindly to promises not being kept,” Vasquez said.
Caballero said there is no question the demand is there for a VA hospital in the Valley. She cited the contracts the VA entered into with two local hospital groups to tend to the healthcare needs of veterans. “There demand has been so great the VA has gone over budget. It has struggled to pay its bills on time. This has angered the local hospitals to such an extent they have threatened legal action,” Caballero said.
Arturo “Treto” Garza, a former co-commander of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley, said that although responsibility for veterans’ affairs rest squarely with the federal government, the state legislature could be doing more. He pointed out that the voters of Texas passed a constitutional amendment in Nov. 2009 – HJR 7 - that allows the state to partner with the federal government to build and operate veterans’ hospitals.
“South Texas veterans, the Texas Legislature, the United States House of Representatives are in essence in favor of expanding the VA’s Harlingen Surgical Center into a Full Service Medical Center,” Garza said, in an open letter to Valley media outlets.
“President Obama should follow up on his support and promises made in 2008 and request that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki ensure that the South Texas Veterans Health Care Center in Harlingen include a full-service inpatient health care facility.”
Rep. Martinez said he was in full agreement with Garza.
“The state legislature should be doing more to help get a VA hospital built, even though it is primarily a federal responsibility. The voters of Texas overwhelmingly supported the constitutional amendment that I co-authored. Now is the time to allocate the resources,” Martinez said.
“I will be authoring legislation next session to have monies from the Governor’s Emerging Technology Fund or the Texas Enterprise Fund appropriated to the building of a VA hospital in the Valley. It creates jobs and assists the people that need it the most, our veterans,” Martinez said.
Martinez added that he is “incredibly proud” of the hard work and organizing ability of Valley veterans in their push to get a VA hospital. “For them to unite and go up to San Antonio and show the importance of this to our president tells you how much this project matters. It is not just for veterans and their families but for the community as a whole.”
Vasquez said veterans simply want to know what is going on. “Everybody passes the buck. No one seems to want to take responsibility for this issue. But I can assure the politicians and the VA, we are not going to go away. We are going to be messing around until we get that hospital. We are the people. They, the politicians, are working for us. We need to remind them of that. If it were not for us they would not be up there in Washington. Pay attention to us,” Vasquez said.