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Clinic expansion in South Texas

You may recall the 250-mile march that State Rep. Aaron Pena and a bunch of veterans from the Rio Grande Valley took in November to highlight the need for a real VA hospital in South Texas. It’s not quite what they asked for, but they did get something for their efforts.

A new, larger outpatient clinic for veterans, to replace a smaller clinic built in 2004, is planned for land near the Regional Academic Health Center.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office announced the plan Wednesday.

A statement from Hutchison’s office said that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will lease the clinic from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for at least 15 years. The facility will be built on land owned by UT Health Science Center and adjacent to the RAHC.


Richard Garcia, assistant vice president for South Texas programs at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, said the center had been planning this new clinic “for a while,” but didn’t have official word that the Department of Veterans Affairs would lease the space.

Garcia said design plans for the clinic already are 95 percent completed.

The new facility would be 30,000 square feet, compared to the current clinic’s 10,000 square feet, and would offer more services, officials said. Some of those services would include mental-health care, a laboratory, a pharmacy, dental care and physical therapy.

Some local veterans questioned whether the new facility would be sufficiently staffed or fully meet veterans’ needs.

“What difference does the new clinic make if we have the same doctors?” said Jose Maria Vasquez, commander of America’s Last Patrol in the Valley. “There aren’t enough … we typically have to wait a few weeks for an appointment.”

Vasquez was one of the veterans who marched from Edinburg to San Antonio in November to demand a veterans’ hospital for the Valley.

It’s more important that the Valley have a veterans’ hospital than another outpatient clinic, Vasquez said. Many veterans must travel to San Antonio for care, or else must pay out of pocket if they can’t obtain prior authorization for care at a local hospital, he said.


Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, said he thought the proposed clinic was a “step in the right direction,” even if the journey isn’t over.

“The veterans of deep South Texas are tremendously underserved in terms of access to medical care, so any advancement is positive,” Peña, who also walked with the veterans to San Antonio, said. “It’s a good start … but we still have a long way to go.”

Vasquez, however, said veterans deserve more.

“We have been shunned, cast to one side, and that’s not going to happen anymore,” Vasquez said. “We’ve been quiet too long.”

Pena expands on his comments at his blog:

My initial response was that I saw and still see this as a positive first step in the fufillment of the dreams of so many South Texans who served this country proudly.

Although some Valley Veterans may have felt that way, after talking to a number of them, I can say that any initial response similar to mine quickly faded in that the Veterans who marched as a whole feel that they are given “crumbs” when other communities, who may not have the number of front line Veterans, have access to a Veterans’ hospital.


I would suggest to the powers that be that what they first seek is communication. A number of them have expressed to me that the people in Washington are not communicating with them and simply making decisions without their involvement. My second suggestion is that any projects, including this one, have real substance and not mere symbolism. The sentiment you may hear over the next couple of days regarding this story is that the gesture is more symbolic than meaningful.

I want to look at this situation in a positive light and therefore welcome the recent announcement as a positve first step.

Barbara Radnofsky characterized Senator Hutchison’s role in this as not in keeping with her promises. From her press release:

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison today reneged on her call for a veterans’ hospital in the Valley. Her opponent, Barbara Ann Radnofsky has campaigned for over a year calling for a veterans’ hospital south of San Antonio. Hutchison echoed Radnofsky’s call in Harlingen on August 17, stating “A real veterans’ hospital is needed in the Valley,” according to press reports. The planned outpatient clinic in Harlingen, which will replace the small and inadequate outpatient clinic in McAllen is not a hospital. Senator Hutchison has once again deserted the veterans of Texas.

Recently, she voted against the amendment1 which would have provided proper funding for veterans’ mental health affairs. The bill she voted against would have provided additional funding for each fiscal year from 2006 through 2010, and would have been used for readjustment counseling, related mental health services, treatment and rehabilitative services for veterans with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder.

Details on that particular vote can be found here.

We’ll see how this develops. The Rio Grande Guardian, which I can’t access because I’m not a subscriber, has a frontpage blurb that says “Cmdr. José Maria Vasquez said if acute care was not provided, America’s Last Patrol would file an injunction”, so I expect we’ll be hearing more soon.

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One Comment

  1. PDiddie says:

    Can this be anything but a glaring failure of leadership on the part of the senior Senator from Texas?

    She sits on the Veterans’ Affairs committee, for Pete’s sake. Could she not get a VA hospital in the Valley if she really wanted one?

    Let’s get Kay Bailey Perjury Technicality replaced with a woman who cares about veterans.