RAYMONDVILLE, RGV – Efforts to get a National Veterans Cemetery in the Rio Grande Valley and support for a class-action lawsuit on the issue of a VA hospital for the same region are to be discussed next weekend.

Commander Jose Maria Vasquez
Commander Jose Maria Vasquez

The Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum organization is hosting a meeting on Saturday, March 14, to discuss both issues. The event takes place at the American Legion Hall in Raymondville, starting at 1 p.m. Commander George Solis of Raymondville has made the facility available to the GI Forum.

“Remember how we were dismissed by the VA in Washington when they said, ‘oh, you guys, down by the river’,” asked Jose Maria Vasquez, a commander for the Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum in the Rio Grande Valley.

“According to the Booz Allen Hamilton study we have a veteran population of 110,000. We helped get Proposition 8 passed in 2009, which allows Texas to partner with the VA and local communities to establish additional health care facilities. But nothing has happened. Enough of this institutionalized discrimination. No Veterans Hospital, no National Cemetery, no service.”

Placido Salazar, a commander with the Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum and, like Vasquez, a Vietnam War veteran, has been promoting the Raymondville event.

“Are you tired of traveling 500 miles round-trip to Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, for the surgical or specialized VA care which as a U.S. Veteran you are entitled to receive, right here in the Valley? You earned it. Let’s fight for it,” Salazar said, in a letter to veterans’ leaders across the Valley.

“Do you believe that we should be able to bury our military heroes in a National Veterans’ Cemetery right here in The Rio Grande Valley – and not in far-off Ft. Sam Houston Cemetery in San Antonio or elsewhere?”

If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” Salazar said Valley veterans should attend the Raymondville meeting.

“It is an important meeting. We want to get Valley veterans to sign a petition for a possible class action lawsuit in our fight for a full-service 24/7 VA hospital in the Valley. Additionally, we will be signing a petition to build a National Veterans’ Cemetery in the Valley,” Salazar said.

“We can make these things happen – if we take action. We need every eligible Valley Veteran to register in the VA Healthcare System – to show the VA in Washington, D.C., that we do exist, that we have the numbers to justify a full-service 24/7 VA Hospital. If we do not register, we have nobody else to blame.”

Salazar said added that it was time for all the politicians who have promised a veterans’ hospital for the Valley to deliver.

“We firmly believe in all those political promises throughout the years of support for our veterans – including the words of the Commander In Chief, Barack Obama – so we kindly ask these politicians to put those promises into action – by delivering funding at the state and federal level to build the full-service 24/7 VA hospital for our RGV veterans and to establish a National Cemetery,” Salazar said.

“There should be no doubt that each one of our Valley veterans, beginning with our heroes who made the supreme sacrifice, have more than paid a heavy price, to merit the best VA medical care in the world, which a grateful country should provide, right here at home – and not a 500 mile roundtrip to Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio and back.”

Lupe Saldana, commander on the Washington, D.C. state American GI Forum and a former national commander of the American GI Forum of the U.S., likes the idea of a National Veteran’s Cemetery being established in the Valley.

In a letter to Salazar, Saldana said: “Your announcement is timely. I have just been reappointed to the national advisory committee for VA Cemeteries and memorials, and your new press release and additional documents will be presented to the committee for discussion and consideration for a National Cemetery in the Rio Grande Valley. Let’s work together to advance this issue in the White House, the Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Commander Placido Salazar
Commander Placido Salazar

Salazar said there are good and valid reasons for a National Cemetery to be built in the Valley.

“A National Cemetery in South Texas should be a given, being that several states not even half the size of Texas, have twice as many National Cemeteries. Needless to say, the color of our skin, should never be part of the decision-making process, to provide the needed care for our Valley veterans,” Salazar said.

“Our Valley veterans have definitely waited more than enough, marched more than 500 miles to San Antonio and across The Valley several times. We have traveled to Austin, to Washington, D.C. Which is more important for our RGV veterans and the economy of our beloved Rio Grande Valley, a divisive, racist wall separating many of us from our families, or a much-needed VA hospital and a National Cemetery?”

Editor’s Note: In the main photo accompanying this story, American GI Forum commanders Placido Salazar and Jose Maria Vasquez are pictured outside the Audie Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio.  They were there to push for a VA hospital for the Rio Grande Valley.