HARLINGEN, June 12 - Veterans in South Texas have been actively advocating for a Veterans Affairs Hospital for the region for years.
They feel that it is needed and long overdue. Many local residents agree.
Now it is election time again. We just had the primaries and now the runoffs are hot. The politicians are still out in force asking for our vote. They are making promises and committing themselves to bringing more benefits to South Texas. And then comes November and the General Elections. My question to all the candidates is this: simply, why?
Veterans have the support of all three local county judges and their commissioners’ court. Most city mayors and their city commissions support the issue of a VA hospital for the region. State legislators are wholly supportive. Our congressional delegation (our three U.S. representatives and two senators) are on board. The Texas County Judges Association is in support and has passed a resolution. The local Catholic Diocese of Brownsville is actively supporting the veterans. Veterans have been told that just about everyone in the Rio Grande Valley supports the issue. So why doesn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs listen?
It begs the question as to whether our elected officials really matter? Don’t they have enough political clout to get us a VA hospital, even when it is a known fact that they are all in agreement? Are they working together on this issue? Is there division along party lines? Something is wrong with this picture.
At one point, veterans had the support from three national powerful politicos. U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Kerry went on record by co-sponsoring a bill asking for a VA hospital for South Texas. Yes, they co-sponsored a bill submitted jointly by our two Republican senators. Local veterans thought that they had the support of two powerful congressmen, one being the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee - Bob Filner, a Democrat from California. The other was Chet Edwards, a Democrat from Waco and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Then there was also U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, whom many assumed would support us. He never answered any of our many letters sent to him. Well, he lost his re-election bid in the recent primary election in El Paso.
Is there a lesson to be learned from Reyes’ defeat at the ballot box? He thought he was going to be re-elected and was surprised at losing after having served 18 years. Maybe that is the problem; some of our elected officials have been in office so long that they tend to forget why they ran for in the first place.
The same thing that happened to Congressman Solomon Ortiz happened to Reyes.In my view, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa has been lucky that he still remains in office. As far as I am concerned he is another elected official who has not done anything to bring a much needed full service VA hospital to South Texas He has not even attempted to bring any of the VA’s key personnel to his district to meet with veterans on the issue.
Congressman Blake Farenthold has been in office last than two years and he has already succeeded in getting the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee to his district. Congressman Jeff Miller visited with veterans at Farenthold’s request. In my view, the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley missed a great opportunity to meet with Miller when they chose not to attend Farenthold’s summit in Corpus Christi. Congressman Hinojosa where are you?
Hinojosa is now the dean of the Valley's congressional delegation. He has seniority. But what good is seniority if you cannot deliver. Last year at a meeting in Harlingen Hinojosa stated that these matters take time. Well it’s been a helluva long time since veterans have asked for a VA hospital.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison could have left an incredible legacy in South Texas by bringing a VA hospital to the region. She had the opportunity and was actively pursuing it, but she seemed to slow down after Texas voters denied her the governorship. It is as if she just folded her arms and stopped her efforts. Shame on her. Can Senator John Cornyn or any of our Congressmen deliver for us? Congressman Henry Cuellar probably has the best chance. He has proven himself and has given veterans the opportunity to lobby the VA to add funding via the department’s Strategic Capital Investment Plan.
Arturo 'Treto' Garza served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and is a former co-chair of the Veteran’s Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. Garza’s Veteran's Voice column appears exclusively in the Guardian. Garza lives in Harlingen, Texas.