Just when we thought we had finally opened a line of communication with someone, anyone at VA, regarding a much-needed full-service 24/7 VA hospital for our more than 120,000 U.S. veterans in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley, we hear the bad news that Jose Riojas will be leaving.

I guess we are right back to square one, unless somebody else is willing to run with the ball for us.

Jose 'Joe' Riojas
Jose ‘Joe’ Riojas

Riojas has been chief of staff to to VA Secretary Robert McDonald and dialogue between RGV veterans and Riojas starting to open up.

McDonald made these remarks about Riojas’ departure from the VA:

It is with reluctance that I am announcing today that Joe Riojas has decided to leave VA to pursue other senior leadership opportunities. From his 30-year military career, to his work within VA as the Assistant Secretary for Operations, Security, and Preparedness and, most recently, Chief of Staff, Joe has been a tireless public servant, a strong voice for our Nation’s Veterans, and an inspirational leader. He is the embodiment of our most central values, acting everyday with integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence.

Joe has been a wonderful partner to me since I arrived in July of last year, advising me and helping guide this Department on the crucial journey we are on now. Like everyone at VA, I have benefited from his sage judgment, and I’m going to miss having him right next door to me.

While we will miss Joe, he is leaving us a good road map to allow us to better fulfill our most sacred mission – to care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and their families. As we continue our progress, I have asked Rob Nabors, currently my Senior Advisor, to serve as Chief of Staff for the Department. Joe and Rob will be working together over the next four to five weeks to ensure that there is orderly transition.

This really saddens me, because each year too many of our impoverished Valley veterans die without the much-needed, and bravely earned VA medical care they are entitled to receive close to home. They continue to be denied, having to make a 500-mile, almost 24 hours on the road, trip to Audie Murphy VA Hospital and back. Too many of our Valley veterans, either because of their age, deteriorating health or financial problems, eventually find it necessary to discontinue this grueling trek.

I find it very hard to believe that our VA Secretary and his predecessors, as well as our area congressmen have failed to show some compassion and work to remedy this inhumane situation. Even our Mexican-American RGV legislators have delivered nothing more than empty political promises, perhaps because they do not share our impoverished up-bringing, or because they did not have to risk their lives in combat as we did.

An even worse slap in the face to these mostly Mexican-American Veterans in the most-recruited area in the U.S. is, reading or hearing in the media that so many millions or billions of dollars each year are spent in other (whiter?) areas of the country, to repair, remodel, or build new VA hospitals, while our Valley veterans, from Corpus Christi to the Texas-Mexico border, continue being fed a bunch of empty promises, even from now-President Barack Obama – with only a couple of over-burdened ‘band-aid’ 8:00 a.m. -4:00 p.m. VA clinics, staffed, I am sad to say, by some obnoxious, first-contact, personnel who have turned away many of our Veterans with combat-related illnesses when they try to register for VA care.

Due to the frustration of being ignored by a seemingly uncaring government for whom we bravely volunteered (some were drafted) to risk our lives in combat, (although we are extremely proud to be recognized as “the ethnic group most decorated for bravery”), we find it necessary to seek remedy for this valiant group of brave warriors, through a class action lawsuit, headed by The Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Org as main plaintiffs.

Oddly enough, The American G.I. Forum was founded in 1948 by Dr. Hector P. Garcia and several hundred Mexican-American WWII veterans, who returned to find the same racism and hatred they thought they had left behind; which denied them the VA medical care their combat wounds and illnesses required. Our Mexican-American WWII veterans were even relegated to segregated wards.

VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald
VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald

It’s truly a shame that almost 70 years later, we are still fighting the same (institutionalized/covert racism???) battle for our Mexican-American U.S. veterans –  against our own government. Is this the same government which criticizes other countries for human rights violations – now violating the human rights of those who sacrificed so much to maintain our democracy? Maybe it’s not racism, but what, then, is it?

Our government has pushed us this far into a corner – that we must seek legal remedy through the courts, to demand that our minority U.S. Veterans receive the same, equal and humane VA medical treatment as our brothers/sisters Veterans in other areas of the country. Yes, the same country which we were ready and willing to die for. This is the very-easily corrective action which I was trying to resolve through the help of VA Chief of Staff Jose Riojas and Major General Freddy Valenzuela.

It’s truly an even worse shame that the terrorist group ISIS did not have to fight at all, to now probably be utilizing the hospitals built in minimum time with billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in Iraq, while our government continues to ignore our pleas, although we have driven several times to Washington DC, at our own expense, begging for the needs of our RGV veterans to be heard – only to receive more empty political promises and false hope.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald, I again cordially invite you (or any of our RGV congressmen) to accompany (shadow) one of our disabled RGV veterans on their trip to Audie Murphy, starting at 2:00am to be at Audie Murphy by 7:00 a.m., usually returning home close to midnight, after spending all day, usually fasting for lab work, at Audie Murphy. Maybe that would give you the perspective required – to make a humane decision. Oh, the old clunker which many of them can only afford to travel in, might not be air-conditioned. You don’t mind, do you?

Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this story is of Rio Grande Valley veterans attending an American GI Forum event at the American Legion Hall in Raymondville, Texas, on March 14, 2015. Veterans at the event agreed to file a class action lawsuit against the VA to secure a VA hospital for the Valley. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)