Monday, January 14, 2008

South Texas Veterans continue fight for local medical facility

For Valley veterans, fighting continues off the battlefield
By Laura Tillman/The Brownsville Herald
January 12, 2008 - 10:19PM

Saturday, hundreds of South Texas veterans and their families convened at UTB-TSC to see old friends, make new ones, and continue fighting to receive what they are owed.

Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, organized the Veterans and Military Summit, which is the third annual convention of veterans in Brownsville.

A veteran himself, Ortiz focused on the need for a hospital for the estimated 114,000 veterans in South Texas. Many veterans have to make a five-hour trip to San Antonio to receive medical care.

“We’ll continue to fight until your drive will be a few minutes away, not a few hours away, my friends,” Ortiz said.

But some veterans were frustrated, saying that in previous years they’d heard the same message fall on deaf ears.

“The problem I see with this summit is the fact that I’ve been to so many of these and the Veterans Administration is still not giving us a hospital,” said Ruben Flores of Brownsville.

Like many of those gathered, Flores is fed up with the lack of an inpatient hospital to serve the more than 20,000 veterans that qualify for medical services in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I’m 73, how much longer am I going to last? But for the young guys coming back, that’s why we need a hospital here,” he said, adding that his grandson had just returned from Iraq.

Juliet Garcia, the president of the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, offered the university’s services to those gathered.

“The doors of our university are wide open to the veterans of our wars,” Garcia said.

Several break-out sessions followed the opening ceremony. These included discussions about health care benefits and business opportunities.

Exhibitors from local hospitals, immigration services, and tourist bureaus also provided information to veterans at dozens of stations around the auditorium.

According to keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Thomas Turner, many veterans who are eligible for benefits are unaware, and end up suffering unnecessary financial burdens.

Various presenters attempted to address this issue by providing educational materials to veterans and their families.

Marie DeLeon was stationed at a table for the Gold Star Wives of America, a group that provides benefits to women who have lost a spouse in combat.

DeLeon lost her first husband in World War II, and remarried. She was unaware that she still qualified for benefits, even though she had remarried.

When her second husband died, she was receiving only Social Security, but a woman from the Gold Star Wives of America informed her that she was eligible for benefits.

“Now I try to educate other women,” she said.

Ortiz hopes that the summit will help to create the necessary data to prove that there are a sufficient number of veterans in Rio Grande Valley to necessitate a veteran’s hospital.

“They say in the military that some have given some and some have given all,” Ortiz said. “We have an obligation and a responsibility to serve our veterans.”

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