HARLINGEN, April 15 – There will be a meeting of the VA’s Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans on April 26 at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.
The committee will meet with a panel of veterans selected by the local VA administration. Rio Grande Valley veterans and the public will not be allowed to participate in the discussion or ask questions. But, but the public is invited to attend.
So it is déjà vu, all over again. When the Under Secretary of the Veterans Health Administration visited Harlingen in February, veterans were also not allowed to meet with him. Only a select committee of veterans approved by the local VA administration was allowed to meet with him. Local veterans had written letters and emails to the VA and national elected officials to have a top veteran affairs administrator come down if the Secretary of Veterans Affairs could not make it. All that work done by veterans and yet no one was allowed to go before the VA representative.
The federal mandate states that the Committee of Minority Affairs must have town hall meetings where veterans can attend and voice their concerns. The local VA has a Management Advisory Committee that meets with veterans, but at the last meeting this scheduled meeting was not mentioned. I am sure that the Committee plans way in advance where they will meet. They have to get all the members down here, and the members are from different parts of the country.
Click here for more information about the Committee of Minority Affairs.
Obama Administration Event
There was a very important Community Summit Meeting in San Antonio recently. The summit was one of a number of events the Obama administration is holding throughout the country to get feedback on his first term. The summit was open to the public and even though the main Obama representative was the Secretary of the Department of Education, it still allowed for other topics to be brought up.
Valley veterans’ leaders Felix Rodriguez and Jose Maria Vasquez attended the summit. I know this because I saw their photo in a local San Antonio newspaper. I feel that this was a missed opportunity for veterans to bring light the issue of the VA hospital for South Texas since President Obama promised on three occasions to solve the problem by opening a VA hospital so that South Texas would not have to travel a long distance for acute care. The Obama administration is probably not aware of his promises and local veterans have not been able to get the message to the White House.
Optimism! It is good, but optimism is not enough!
After their successful veterans march seven years ago to San Antonio’s Veterans Affairs Hospital demanding a VA hospital for South Texas, Rio Grande Valley veterans were optimistic.
They believed that maybe these renewed efforts would have better results and that things had changed from earlier, unsuccessful, efforts to secure a hospital. What the march did was move U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to ask for a study of the need. She followed up by bringing then Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Peake to Harlingen to discuss the issue. Services were expanded, but there was no hospital.
Valley veterans continued their offensive and approached the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council for a resolution of support which was approved by a unanimous vote of its board. The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville was also approached and it too supported all efforts and even helped raise thousands of signatures on a petition to be presented to Congress, the VA and the President.
Veterans traveled to Washington, D.C., to monitor a hearing of the Subcommittee on Veterans Health of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. At the hearing, Congressman Solomon Ortiz presented a bill in support of a VA hospital for south Texas. Again, at a later date, veterans returned to D.C. to lobby for their number one issue. In the meantime, veterans were also recruiting help from the region’s state legislators. All local state representatives and state senators were in full support of all the resolutions that were passed endorsing a VA hospital. All three local county governments were approached and all three supported the efforts also by unanimous votes on their resolutions. Many local city governmental governing bodies were also visited and all were in favor. The Texas Association of County Judges also passed a resolution in favor. The citizens and veterans of the area and everyone else were on board. Our national delegation of congressional members was in full support. So optimism was high!
But seven years later the prospects of bringing a VA hospital to the area are as slim as ever. Our bills in Congress have not been successful. The VA does not feel that veterans in south Texas warrant a full service medical center.
Can it be possible that with all the local elected officials supporting the efforts, still Congress, the VA and the President are not moved? Whatever happened to democracy? Why isn’t the veterans’ outcry for help being heard where it counts the most, in Washington? Why?
Will our area ever get a VA hospital for our Veterans? And yes the community still feels that one is needed and it’s long overdue.
Its election time and once again, those running for political office will all say that they support the efforts to bring a VA hospital to the area. But are they sincere, will they move on the issue? Please ask them.
Veterans beware! If you receive a large yellow envelope from the Veterans Regional Office that handled your claim, make sure that you read it carefully. If you have problems with understanding the contents call the VA claims representative that filed on your behalf. The correspondence starts off with the line “A special review of your file was mandated on (such and such date). Based on a review of the evidence listed below, we have made the following decisions on your claim.”
Even though there is a huge backlog on claims filed by veterans, the VA is still taking time and going back to review some of its claims. This will only further the time needed to approve new claims. Veterans have to be careful especially if their disability rating is changed or modified. Veterans on Individual Unemployability (IU) must take extra precaution. In many instances there might not be too much of a change on compensation benefits payment, but remember that your disability rating changes the amount.
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.