HARLINGEN, September 10 - The new contract voucher system that was implemented as a result of the Booz Allen study has proven that there are enough veterans to sustain a VA hospital in South Texas.
The study had indicated that it was not feasible to construct a VA hospital, or Full Service Medical Center, because there would not be enough veterans utilizing it or needing it. The new contracts the VA has taken out with two private hospital groups in the Rio Grande Valley have proven them wrong.
U.S. Kay Bailey Hutchison was a strong proponent for allowing contracts with local medical hospitals to provide in-patient services for veterans referred from the local VA clinics. She advocated this route instead of pushing for a FSMC. The additional medical services have not been successful. The voucher system utilized by the local VA is not working as planned. Veterans are very discouraged that it takes a long time to have the referral vouchers approved. And the VA is slow to pay private medical providers for medical services rendered to veterans referred by their VA medical provider. In order for a veteran to be admitted at the ER, the need has to be an emergency situation. Veterans are of the opinion that they can go to the local contracted hospital ER when the local VA clinics are closed. This is not so.
Everyone supports the idea of a FSMC for veterans and many feel that it’s about time and long overdue. There are a few that feel that there is not enough money to open a FSMC. And then there are some that feel that the veterans should get a VA card allowing them to go to a doctor of their choice. The VA walks away from this suggestion. TRICARE uses this system and yet many veterans that qualify for TRICARE use the VA health services system.
All of our Congressional delegation should be lobbying the VA’s Strategic Capital Investment Plan (SCIP) and advocating for the expansion of the Harlingen Surgical Center into a Full Service Medical Center. This would be the easiest and more economical approach. And it is feasible.
Local veterans need a VA hospital (FSMC). FSMC is being used in place of VA hospital due to the fact that the VA has let it be known that they are no longer opening VA hospitals.
On a related note, veterans, where is Congressman Rubén Hinojosa?
I submit that he has failed to respond to inquiries as to what he proposes to do now that the VA’s Strategic Capital Investment Plan (SCIP) seems to be the blueprint for the future of health delivery and construction plans for the VA.
Congressman Hinojosa continues to tell veterans that he is working very hard to bring a Full Service Medical Center (FSMC) to South Texas, yet his absence in advocating for his veteran constituents before the SCIP is troubling. He has made no noticeable effort to move his own bill, HB 837, which would create a VA hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, out of committee.
Congressman Henry Cuellar opened the door to the possibility of the Harlingen Surgical Center being expanded to a FSMC. Thanks to Cuellar, this wording was included in the VA’s response to a House Committee Report which asked the VA to look more closely at health services in rural areas. Cuellar attached his HB 1318 to the HB 2055 Military and Veterans Affairs Construction and Other Related Agencies Appropriations bill. That bill passed with an overwhelmingly vote of 411 to 5. Cuellar’s bill was not part of the new law, but the House saw fit to issue a House Committee Report to the VA regarding this very issue. So Cuellar has opened the door for the possible funding of a FSMC. Recently, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn wrote the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Lt. Gen. Eric Shinseki asking for expansion of the VA’s Harlingen Surgical Center into a FSMC through the utilization of the SCIP funding plan.
Congressman Hinojosa has yet to make any effort before the SCIP planning committees. We do not know if he wants to push the issue or not. But, in my view, his actions speak for themselves. It is easier said than done. He continually tells veterans that he is in full support of a VA hospital for the Valley, but he tends to forget what he says as soon as he walks out the door from the place he is delivering his speeches. Veterans, we need to commit him to our efforts. He has been rather slow in working towards this goal. In Harlingen last year, he told us that “it takes time” and it was the fault of the “the other side of the aisle,” blaming the Republican Party for failure to pass legislation or move to solve the issue. Veterans feel that this issue should not be a partisan issue but rather an issue to honor our government’s promise to veterans. And, on the same note, the City of Harlingen has been rather slow in embracing the efforts of veterans to bring a FSMC to the Valley. Veterans are advocating for the expansion of the new VA Harlingen Surgery Center into a FSMC. Harlingen needs to step up its efforts.
Arturo 'Treto' Garza, a resident of Harlingen, Texas, served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and is a former co-chair of the Veteran’s Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. He now writes in an individual capacity and not on behalf of the Veteran’s Alliance. His Veteran's Voice column appears exclusively in the Guardian.