HARLINGEN, RGV – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn wants to rename a VA clinic in Harlingen after the late Arturo ‘Treto’ Garza, who championed veteran’s issues in the Rio Grande Valley and wrote regularly for the Guardian.

Cornyn has introduced legislation to expand the South Texas VA Health Care Center to include 50 inpatient beds and rename it the “Treto Garza South Texas Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Center.”

The legislation also requires the VA to include the facility in its Strategic Capital Investment Planning process. If this happened it would speed up expansion of the facility.

“After all the sacrifices they have made, the thousands of veterans who call South Texas home deserve to see a local VA inpatient care facility become reality,” Cornyn said, in a news release. “The dedication these men and women have shown, and continue to show, to our country reaffirms my commitment to ensuring that veterans in South Texas have access to the highest quality of care.”

Garza, a Harlingen resident who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, died October 3, 2012, aged 68. After returning from Vietnam Garza worked on civil rights issues in the Valley. He helped get water services into Cameron Park, the largest colonia in the United States. He was a volunteer organizer for La Raza Unida and helped get better wages for migrant farm workers. And his effort to improve healthcare services for the poor in Harlingen led to the establishment of Su Clinica Familiar.

Treto Garza's wife, Irene, and veterans Adelaido Cantu, Mike Escobedo and Joe Ibarra stand in front of a tribute photo of the late veteran's leader.
Treto Garza’s wife, Irene, and veterans Adelaido Cantu, Mike Escobedo and Joe Ibarra stand in front of a tribute photo of the late veteran’s leader.

In later years, Garza took up the struggle for a veterans’ hospital in the Valley, writing a weekly column for the Guardian and participating in walks and protests. He also helped countless veterans get the medical services they were entitled to by learning all about the claims process and writing letters to the VA. And he served as co-chair of the Veteran’s Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley.

“Anybody that came for help, he would devote his full time to getting them the services they needed. He would not stop until he got them the health services,” said his wife, Irene Garza.

Asked what she thought of Cornyn’s legislation, Garza told the Guardian: “It is a great honor to have the clinic named after Treto. My family is very excited,” Garza said. “But, in reality, it is an honor for all veterans in the Rio Grande Valley, especially Vietnam War veterans. Finally, they are being recognized.”

Garza said securing a VA hospital in the Valley was her late husband’s biggest dream. “He never gave up the fight. He is gone but we have to unite and make it a reality. It is hard but we have to keep at it. We will never give up.”

Asked how important Treto Garza’s column, entitled Veteran’s Voice, was, Irene Garza said: “He devoted all of his free time to inform and unite, the Valley veterans. The column was the focal point. Everybody would read that column. He never got paid. He did it from his heart. He did it to inform the veterans what was going on. The backlog on claims, he would dig. He would neglect himself to help the veterans.”

Garza thanked Cornyn for his efforts to get a VA hospital in the Valley. “Senator Cornyn is 200 percent behind us. We know we can count on him,” she said. Recognition should also go to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, for their efforts to get a VA hospital in the Valley, Garza said.

Like Cornyn, Cuellar has introduced legislation to get the VA to include healthcare facilities in the Valley in its Strategic Capital Investment Planning process. Martinez has introduced legislation in Austin to get monies in the Texas Enterprise Fund to be used to build a VA hospital.

The Guardian asked Garza to recall her late husband’s work on civil rights issues in the Valley.

“Treto organized with La Raza Unida. He brought water to the community in Cameron Park. He worked to help the farm workers get better wages in the fields. The migrants and farm workers were being abused in the 1960s. I was a farm worker. We used to make ten cents of 15 cents for a bushel of onions. It was a big struggle. Finally we got paid better,” Garza said.

“Treto also worked to get medical services to the community, which led to Su Clinica Familiar. We did lots of fundraisers. We would take a bus to Austin and Washington and we would always take a mechanic as a volunteer also because the buses would often breakdown. A lot of people in the community have come to tell me how much he helped them. If it was not for people like Treto, maybe we would still be back in the 1960s.”

One of the veterans Treto Garza helped was Mike Escobedo. “Treto helped me get the medical services I was entitled to and I am eternally grateful,” Escobedo said. Asked about Cornyn’s legislation, Escobedo said: “It is a great honor for Treto’s family and it is well-deserved. He was one of the strongest advocates.”

Escobedo said he would make one cautionary comment. He said legislation to help Valley veterans has been introduced in Congress before and it has not made it out of committee. “Some of us feel it is just a procedure the elected officials go through. They file a bill and think they have done for the Vet population. A measure of how successful a bill will be is the number of co-sponsors it has. Oftentimes, for us veterans, it is just a handful,” Escobedo said.

Jose “Joe” Ibarra, a Harlingen resident and U.S. Army veteran who also served in Vietnam, was a good friend of Treto Garza’s. He said of Cornyn’s bill: “It is the greatest thing. It has been a long time coming. Congress needs to get behind this. We need a fully-fledged hospital. We have been neglected. There are just too many veterans, not enough facilities and not enough health care professionals to take care of our people,” Ibarra said.

Adelaido Cantu of Combes served in the U.S. Army for 24 years and is a Vietnam War veteran. He first met Treto Garza when the Vietnam War Moving Wall was coming to the Valley. He said naming the VA clinic in Harlingen in honor of Garza is fully justified and deserved.

“I did not know Treto until the Moving Wall came here and I helped him with it. I had a lot of respect for him. I found out a lot of things he had done before for our community. I considered him a good friend of mine,” Cantu said.