November 07, 2005
Rep. Pena walks with the veterans

State Rep. Aaron Pena is currently on a 200+ mile walk from Edinburg to the Alamo along with a number of veterans to highlight the need for a VA hospital in South Texas.

Gray hair and weathered skin offsetting his green fatigues and black POW beret, Vietnam veteran Jose Maria Vasquez began a six-day, 225-mile trek Saturday to protest the distance he must travel to reach the nearest veterans hospital.

Vasquez was joined by about 100 others, a few trailing on horseback, others driving vehicles laden with plastic bottles of water and other supplies for the trip from the Rio Grande Valley in deep South Texas to Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio.

The protesters planned to spend nights at Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion halls along the way, ending with their arrival in San Antonio on Veterans Day.

Some state and local officials donned sneakers and pledged to walk at least part of the way.

"This is a march, walk, crawl, ski club jump ... whatever way we can, we're going to make it over there," Vasquez said. "Veterans are being left down here. We're the ones that give the most war contributions yet we're the ones that are getting less. We're angry. We want to show the nation that this is it."

The lack of a veterans hospital in the four-county region along the Mexican border has long been a point of local contention. With the Rio Grande Valley population now pushing one million and the region continuing to send young people to fight wars, veterans say situation is even more dire now.

Largely poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic, the part of Texas south of San Antonio counts more combat veterans than anywhere else in the nation, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said.

Sylvia Handy, a county commissioner, said the region has more than 60,000 veterans and counting.

"Today our Valley veterans are getting killed and wounded in Iraq," Handy said. "Where are they going to be treated?"

Area veterans seeking care in San Antonio are reimbursed by the government for the trip and there are a buses leaving at least weekly. However, no lodging is offered to relatives, and treatments such as chemotherapy can mean weeks away from family.

Rep. Pena is blogging from the road, with photos included. Here are his entries so far:

Honey! I'm Off to Join the Veterans For A Little Walk

"Little Joe" and Dignitaries Send Us Off Into The Wild Horse Dessert in Search of a Veterans Hospital

First Leg of Today's Veteran Walk a Success

The AP Reports On The Walk

Day Two: Veterans March to the Alamo Continues

Day Two: 15 Solid Soldiers And A General

Day Two: General Marc Cisneros Walks The Veterans to Hometown

My hat is off to you, sir. I'll be following your trip from here with keen interest.

(Oh, and by the way, one candidate for Senate has been a consistent supporter of bringing a VA hospital to the Valley. Just so everyone knows.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 07, 2005 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack