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Rio Grande Valley veterans march for a VA hospital they can call their own

LatinaLista — People in the South Texas region, affectionately known as the Valley, have historically been ignored by the state of Texas and Washington. It wasn’t until Hillary Clinton singled out the Valley during her failed presidential campaign that anyone took much notice of the people there.
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Valley veterans take to the highway on their march to San Antonio to show how far veterans have to travel for medical care.
In fact, the Valley has always been seen as so “inconsequential” that the Department of Homeland Security, under Sec. Chertoff, thought it would be a breeze to roll into the region and start seizing people’s properties to construct the border fence — he was wrong!
In fact, maybe it was the arrogant treatment from Washington of the Valley that awoke in local residents the most recent outrage that is making the Valley’s war veterans say “enough is enough.”
Their outrage, which has been seething for a while, is the fact that there is no VA hospital for the Valley’s veterans. The closest VA hospital is in San Antonio — a four to six hour drive away. While outpatient clinics and contracts have been set up with local hospitals, the veterans say it’s not the same as having their own hospital.

So, for the second time in four years that Valley veterans have organized to show Washington they need their own VA hospital. As the Rio Grande Guardian reported, “For decades, the fight for a VA hospital in the Valley has been spearheaded by Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. This march is being organized by the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America group.”
So, over 100 veterans and supporters are in the middle of a six-day, 220-mile walk, dubbed the March to San Antonio 2009. Veterans will walk from Edinburgh, Texas to San Antonio to show their determination in getting their own VA hospital.

…“We do not have funds appropriated to build a Valley hospital,” VA spokeswoman Diana Struski said.
Veterans say all that is nice, but not enough, especially when a new generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is coming home.
“Contracts are not a long-term solution,” said Rey Leal, a 25-year-old veteran who served with the Marines in Iraq. “They make the VA more like an insurance company. The VA is not an insurance company. It’s a medical provider for veterans.”
Alberto Ochoa, a double amputee, said doctors don’t want to deal with VA paperwork and delays, and when they take Medicare, he’s charged 20 percent.
“Twenty percent of $70,000 is a lot,” he said.
Other veterans say civilian doctors don’t understand their afflictions.
“Most of us just give up,” said Mauro Bernal, a 79-year-old who lost hearing in one ear and was poisoned by radiation in Vietnam.
Andres Narvaez, 64, said veterans put their dream of a hospital in the hands of Democratic candidates who appeared to be letting them down.
“Hillary Clinton promised us one and Obama promised us one, and they didn’t come through,” he said. “We need to get attention so they don’t forget our plight.”

The Rio Grande Guardian is “embedding” one of their reporters with the marchers. He will be filing stories and pictures each day of the six-day march.
The VA says that the region doesn’t have enough veterans to support a VA hospital but given the kind of support this march has garnered from lawmakers and the region, it would seem that some sort of official VA facility could be constructed to honor these men and women’s services — who for too long have been forgotten in the Valley.

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