HARLINGEN, May 6 - On Thursday April 26, 2012 I attended the last rites for a good friend, Mr. Pablo Diaz of Santa Maria, Texas.
On this date the Committee on Minority Veterans was scheduled to meet in Harlingen. I decided to attend the funeral.
Mr. Diaz was a World War II veteran having served in the Army. He was a proud veteran and participated in veteranís service organizations. He was active in the American Legion in La Feria. His service to his country was the catalyst for him to become involved in bringing about social change throughout the lower Rio Grande Valley.
Mr. Diaz was a community activist and help organized various community organizations that were advocating for a better social life and environment in our communities. He was an active participant in Colonias Del Valle, Inc., Military Highway Water Supply Corporation, Organizaciones Unidas (Su Clinica Familiar) and other community groups in rural Cameron County. His wife, Elodia, was also active and they complimented each other in their efforts. They were a good team.
In early 70ís, Pablo was very active with veterans issues. He and his brother, Maximo Diaz, also of Santa Maria and a World War II veteran, continued the efforts of veterans in seeking better health and medical benefits. Both of them joined efforts with other veterans and collected thousands of signatures on a petition asking the then Veterans Administration to address the problems veterans faced in getting better health care. Also, they asked for a Veterans hospital. That was way back then. During the same time, veterans marched from Harlingen to McAllen demanding a veteranís clinic/hospital. Services were being provided from a mobile home that was converted into a make shift medical unit in McAllen at the time.
Don Pablo and Max dreamed on being attended to at a Veterans Hospital here in the valley. That dream kept them going until age took over and they slowed down. However, the torch had been lit. The light flickered away at times and rekindled when other veterans joined in to bring about a much needed VA hospital. Unfortunately they were not successful but the battle for that dream continues. Itís been a long time. And even though medical care has improved, a VA hospital does not appear likely to be constructed in the area in the near future. Our local politicians do not have the clout or power to move the VA, which appears to have the ultimate decision-making power on this issue.
Maximo is a resident at the Sgt. Alfredo Freddy Gonzalez Veterans Nursing Home in McAllen. At the funeral when we parted, Max told me ďTreto, tell our county judges to move on the hospital. We need one.Ē
Meanwhile on that date, the Veterans Affairs Committee on Minority Veterans was meeting in Harlingen. The Committee is comprised of 12 members and only four showed up. Not even a quorum was present. Some of veterans who attended told me that it turned out to be the same old same-o, same-o. That it was just a PR stunt and the chairman promising to take their message back to D.C. Attendance was dismal because of lack of publicity. Very few veterans knew that the Committee was coming.
Much ado is being made about whether Filemon Vela, Jr., would make a good Democrat since many believe that he is a Republican. Vela is running for the new Congressional District 34 as a Democrat. Imagine all the energy being spent on this issue. Heck, does it really matter what party you belong to? I mean, letís be realistic. If we have a 100 percent voter turnout for either party, will the Valley benefit from it? I dare say, no! This is just a political game played by politicians under the guise of democracy. The Valley at one time was solid Democrat, as was the nation, and no change, we still got crumbs from Washington. Then the state turned Republican as well as the nation, and still the Valley did not change, still we got crumbs. And while partisan politics should not play a role in deciding whether to provide promised health care and benefits to our Veterans, the issue of a VA hospital has been tossed around like a hot potato and no one wants to pick up the ball and run with it toward the goal. Partisan politics should not be a factor on this issue and yet it is. Why?
From this day on, there will be a lot of politics. Just about every intersection is filled with political signs. There are many signs in busy streets at businesses and homes with large frontage. If all those signs could vote, the final count would be larger than those that are registered to vote. In the past, politicos used plywood for their signs. Now itís plastic. You canít do home repairs with plastic. I mean in the past, as soon as the elections were over, you would see people going out to remove the signs and using them to make much needed repairs to their homes. Now that is gone. But politicos still want your vote. And wait Ďtil November!
Arturo 'Treto' Garza served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and is a former co-chair of the Veteranís Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. Garzaís Veteran's Voice column appears exclusively in the Guardian. Garza lives in Harlingen, Texas.