Officials pledged to build Department of Veterans Affairs hospital

Also speaking to the overflow crowd were U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and director of the VA Heart of Texas Health Care Network Timothy Shea.

Hutchison promised that the addition to the new VA clinic is a "down payment" and eventually a complete veterans hospital will be built in the Rio Grande Valley.

Some of the veterans in the audience applauded from wheelchairs, or clutched walkers, crutches or canes as reminders of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan or old age.

Hutchison praised Shea and top DVA officials in Washington for "keeping every promise that was made to everyone," she said.

Soon 95 percent of all veterans' medical care will be handled at the Harlingen clinic, ending the need to go to San Antonio, Hutchison pledged.

"A 10-hour round trip to get basic services and check-ups," she said. "It wasn't right."

Within a few days, not only will construction begin on the surgical clinic to supplement the new DVA clinic, but also contracts with Valley Baptist Health System and South Texas Health System will go into effect April 13 providing long-term care at five Valley hospitals, Shea told the crowd.

Hutchison praised Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, now chancellor of The University of Texas System, and Dr. William Henrich, interim president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, Cigarroa's former position, for their support of DVA health care in the Valley.

The San Antonio medical school provides doctors from the Regional Academic Health Center next door to treat veterans in Harlingen and will increase its support, she said.

Cuellar said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Reps. Solomon Ortiz of Corpus Christi and Ruben Hinojosa of Mercedes, have also pushed for improved medical care for Valley veterans.

Afterward, N.R. Chavez of Lasara, a Korean War Army veteran, said he has been making trips to Audie Murphy DVA Hospital in San Antonio for care since 1974 and had to go to Kerrville before that.

Porfirio Munguia, of Raymondville, a member of American Legion Post 390, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War, said he can now has eye treatments at the new DVA clinic in Harlingen, instead of traveling to Audie Murphy.

"That helps me quite a bit," Munguia said. "The services of the VA here have improved, in my opinion."

Army veteran Rey Molano of Los Fresnos said he has been going to Audie Murphy hospital for 15 to 20 years.

Although he will soon need to travel once again to San Antonio for a knee replacement, he is very happy that the new outpatient surgical center will soon be built in Harlingen.

"My wife takes me (to San Antonio)," Molano said. "She's beginning to worry. It's a very far distance for her to drive. So, I'm going to have a hard time going that distance. I'm hoping (the clinic construction) will be done soon."

Pushing for expanded veterans medical services in the Valley will not only benefit older veterans like him, but also soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afganistan, Molano said.

The expanded Harlingen clinic will also benefit the Audie Murphy hospital, he said.

Caring for Valley veterans and additional thousands of Winter Texan veterans each year, pushes the San Antonio hospital past its limits, he said.

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