Veterans start letter writing campaign for hospital

The Veterans Alliance of South Texas has started a letter writing campaign to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki requesting emergency and inpatient services for South Texas veterans, said Emilio De Los Santos, director of veterans services in Hidalgo County. But rather than write letters themselves, they’re imploring their representatives to do it for them.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the state’s two U.S. senators, the Valley’s three U.S. representatives, Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores and other state and local leaders are sending letters to Shinseki to ask him to hear firsthand the needs of local veterans.

“By them coming out with the support letters for the VA secretary, it gives us the momentum to move forward with a request for a hospital here in South Texas,” De Los Santos said. “We’re finally getting closer to where we can meet with the one person that needs to agree with us.”

Since the passage of Proposition 8 in November, a constitutional amendment that authorizes Texas to partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to build and operate hospitals, the veterans alliance has continued a push to secure inpatient and emergency services in South Texas.

The VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System — an offshoot of the veterans health care system based in San Antonio that is scheduled to be an independent system by October — is set to open an outpatient surgery center in Harlingen by January 2011.

Coupled with contracts that the VA put into place with other hospital facilities for veterans to use their inpatient and emergency room services, officials have said that should eliminate nearly all trips to San Antonio to visit the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital — the closest full-service VA hospital to the Valley

But area veterans continue to press for a hospital that can meet their health care needs while providing them a comfortable atmosphere to share with other veterans, said Homer Gallegos, the chairman of the Veterans Alliance of South Texas. The alliance has secured support from the city of Harlingen for the hospital to be located there, and it’s also seeking resolutions from other cities throughout the Valley.

But city support for a hospital is moot without congressional appropriations and expansion approval from the VA.

That’s where the letters to Shinseki come in.

With a fast-growing population in South Texas and the migration of retired veterans to the area, emergency and inpatient services should be added to the medical facility in Harlingen so veterans can have the hospital they deserve, says the letter from the Valley’s congressional delegation.

“We are urging Secretary Shinseki to meet our veterans in the Rio Grande Valley because we believe when he meets them and hears their stories of the hardships they’ve endured without a full service veterans hospital nearby, he should go away with a very real understanding of what must be done,” U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa said.

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