Placido Salazar
Placido Salazar

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – I would like to know why the Honorable Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is visiting El Paso and not, also, the Rio Grande Valley, where more than 120,000 Rio veterans reside?

The Rio Grande Valley has been noted as the “worst in the country” for VA healthcare services. I would like to point out to Secretary Gibson that South Texas does not end in San Antonio. Come and talk to us and you will see why we have been communicating to President Barack Obama, to former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and his predecessors on the urgency of delivering a full-service VA Hospital for the Rio Grande Valley, something Barack Obama promised when running for president in 2008.

Come and see, Secretary Gibson, why the Booz Allen Hamilton study determined as its first option the building a VA Hospital in the Valley, to be enlarged as the need increased.

Why must Rio Grande Valley Veterans have to continue traveling more than 500 miles, more than ten hours on the roundtrip to Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio? Large numbers of veterans in other parts of the country do not have to endure this. We served our country with just as much bravery and sacrifice as any other veteran in any American war.

I would also like to say thank you to Mr. Greg Abbott for jumping on our band-wagon to provide the medical care which we have been fighting for these past number of decades. Mr. Abbott should be aware that the Rio Grande Valley is home to more than 120,000 U.S. Veterans. Up until now, we had heard nothing from Mr. Abbott on this subject, but his belated involvement is certainly welcome.

All Mr. Abbott had to do was look out the window at the State Capitol, or visit numerous State Veteran Committee meetings our Valley Veterans we have attended, to see us asking for political help and funding, to provide the medical care which our Veterans have earned – the hard way. If he had, maybe Mr. Abbott might have joined our efforts sooner.

It is truly amazing how the need for the Rio Grande Valley Veterans’ almost half a million potential votes can motivate politicians. But, I remind Mr. Abbott and other politicians that we need ACTION, not more empty promises. We already have enough empty promises to fill several warehouses. Yet, our Valley veterans continue to have to travel more than 500 miles and ten-plus hours to get the care they need at Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio. I doubt that few Veterans in other parts of the country, have to endure the same hardship.

One has to wonder: why has it taken so long for the voices of our Valley veterans to be heard, or even to be noticed?

When we went to war, we were not fighting for one political district or another, or for one state or another; we were fighting for The UNITED STATES AMERICA. We were not Brown, Black or White. We were RED, WHITE AND BLUE. As such, we need for all our politicians, regardless of political affiliation to move quickly, at the State and Federal level, to resolve this disgraceful injustice against our Rio Grande Valley Veterans, which should have been corrected several decades ago.

Dr. Hector P. Garcia and more than 700 U.S. Veterans founded The American GI Forum in 1948 because our returning WWII Veterans in Corpus Christi and other areas were being denied the VA medical care their wounds and illnesses required. Dr. Garcia forcefully integrated the ‘white’ and ‘Mexican’ wards at the Corpus Christi hospital.

In 2014, sadly almost 70 years later, our Rio Grande Valley veterans are still being left out by the United States’ Veterans Affairs. That must be corrected immediately. Thus, we welcome Mr. Abbott joining the other politicians already in this fight.

Placido Salazar is a USAF Retired Vietnam veteran. He serves as Veterans’ Legislation Liaison for the Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Organization of Texas.