This column first appeared in the McAllen Monitor.
That any veteran dies waiting for health care anywhere in America is our nation’s greatest shame.
Monday in the Rio Grande Valley, we took a small but historic step to honor our commitment to those who selflessly answer the call of duty. But there is far more we must do — as a state and as a nation — for our military.
These men and women put their lives on the line fighting for the freedom we all enjoy today. Their service to this nation may end when they leave the battlefield, but this country’s debt to them does not. That is the message I shared with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on his visit to the Rio Grande Valley — the first of its kind by a VA secretary.
Along with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and a congressional delegation, we saw and heard firsthand the desperate need for access to first-rate health care for our veterans in the Rio Grande Valley.
Our veterans have waited too long. Their need is too great. Now is the time that we must come together. This is a problem we can solve.
I call on Congress to quickly pass the legislation offered by Sen. Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to add in-patient and urgent care facilities at the VA Health Care Center in Harlingen.
Not one more veteran should be stuck in line unable to get an appointment. Not one more veteran should lose their life — not on some foreign battlefield, but while waiting for the care promised to them for their service.
I sent a letter to President Barack Obama in January reminding him of his 2008 call for a VA hospital in the Valley. And I agree still with his words: We must “treat our troops and our veterans properly when they come home.” We must treat them with “dignity and respect. They have earned our respect.”
America is the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known because of those who wear the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces. They have been there to serve us; it is our turn to serve them.
Here in Texas, ours is a special calling. More than a million Texans have served, and many more have trained and lived on military installations in the Lone Star State. Today, Texas is the proud home to almost 2 million veterans, active duty military and reserve and National Guard members and their families.
So important is the role of the military in Texas, one of the first pieces of legislation I signed into law as governor this past session was the Stolen Valor Bill to increase the penalty for presenting a fraudulent military record in Texas.
I was also proud to approve funding to help our veterans and military with some of their deepest wounds. Mental health screenings and family support services will now be offered at the local level in partnership with private providers. And because Texas is home to more women veterans than any state, a Women’s Veterans Program has been created to improve outreach and access to benefits.
But the Valley still needs a full-service in-patient VA facility. Texas stands ready and willing to help the federal government make that a reality. Opening in 2016, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and 15,000-square-foot Smart Hospital complex in Hidalgo County would be a force multiplier.
Long ago, Abraham Lincoln made a promise to our veterans saying America would “care for him who shall have borne the battle.” We took a step today to better fulfill that promise, but there is more we must do to ensure that the growing number of veterans in South Texas have access to first-rate health care.