In The News

KGNS: Video: Expanding Access to VA Health Care in Zapata

f t # e
Laredo, May 5, 2015 | comments

Veterans living in Zapata in need of health care now have another option. Not too long ago, veterans had to make the over 40-mile trip to the veterans clinic in Laredo -- or the one in the valley. Now, that trip can be only a few blocks away.

The changes are part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. It went into effect last November, but the changes for Zapata just came online last week.

For the most part, Korean War Veteran Jaime Gonzalez is doing well for his age. He's already in his 80s, but now and then he has problems with conditions he developed during active duty. Gonzalez explains, "Problems with the service, I guess, mostly when I got out it was my ears."

Veterans like him receive care at the veterans clinic. For those living in Zapata, the nearest clinic is more than 40 miles away. That can be a problem for older veterans. "Some of them can't travel too much. A lot of them can't drive anymore," says Gonzalez.

Eligible veterans will now be been given access to non-VA care. That's a result of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. Congressman Henry Cuellar says some veterans can get healthcare at facilities right in Zapata. "If they live here more than 40 miles away from the VA clinic in Laredo or another clinic, which here in Zapata is more than 40 miles, then they qualify."

Now, veterans needing simple procedures will be able to stay in town and get those services with physicians working with the veterans affairs network. But, there are still some circumstances that will call for a longer trip. Cuellar adds, "If they need healthcare or a hospital stay, they'll still have to go to Laredo. But, at least for some of the more simple medical procedures, they can be done here in Zapata." And, veterans like Gonzalez are thankful. "We're very happy that Henry is working towards this end of helping the veterans."

To find out about from which physician you can request healthcare services or to schedule appointments, veterans must get in touch with TriWest. They can be reached at 1-866-606-8198. TriWest is a third party administration that is helping to coordinate this program.

The act allows vets living over 40 miles from the nearest clinic to receive care closer to home, but the act also lists different situations in which veterans can receive local health care services:

-if vets would have to wait for more than 30 days for an appointment
-if getting to the nearest VA medical facility would require travel by plane or boat
-or if you have an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to the nearest clinic due to a geological formation that can't be crossed by road

Webb County has a similar program in place in which eligible veterans can go to the Laredo Medical Center to receive certain procedures. Congressman Cuellar says his office is also trying to add Doctors Hospital to expand access to medical services for Webb County residents.

For more information, you can visit

f t # e