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THE MONITOR: Secretary’s visit aims to highlight healthcare needs for veterans but some aren’t waiting

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MCALLEN, Texas, September 13, 2015 | comments

Posted: Sunday, September 13, 2015 8:38 pm


A roundtable discussion Monday with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and Texas state leaders aims to discuss the future of the medical school at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the possible role it can play addressing the healthcare needs of local veterans.

UTRGV’s Regional Academic Health Center begins the first of a day-long schedule of events at 10 a.m. at the Health Science Center, 2100 Treasure Hills Blvd, Harlingen, where McDonald will meet with Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-McAllen, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and others.


This is McDonald’s first visit to the Valley, which epitomizes the nation’s failure to provide veterans timely access to health care, according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s January letter to President Barrack Obama.


Abbott also wrote that the VA should leverage the investments the state is already making, specifically the UTRGV’s new medical school and state-of-the-art hospital.


As a presidential candidate, Obama said providing adequate medical care to Valley vets was an issue of respect during a campaign speech Feb. 22, 2008, at UTPA. Obama called for an end to veteran homelessness and delays in disability payments and treatment.


“No more long line at the VA,” Obama said at UTPA, years before the 2014 national VA controversy, which prompted McDonald’s predecessor, Eric Shinseki, to resign.


“We need a VA hospital right here in the Valley so that people no longer drive four hours, five hours, just to get the services that they have earned. We have to treat everybody with dignity and respect. They have earned our respect,” he added.


McDonald will visit the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, which earned some of the worst wait times in the nation.



Gulf War veteran Marco Soto experienced firsthand the struggles of returning to civilian life. The Air Force vet almost became a statistic among the 22 veteran suicides that occur daily, he said.


The 43-year-old, who suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder, said the government could be doing more to fulfill their commitment to veterans. The sacrifice made by those willing to fight for their country is not reciprocated by the government, and soldiers should still be looking out for their brothers, said Soto.


Soto describes the absence of a support system for those suffering from mental health issues. While he is critical of the situation, Soto isn’t just talking about it.


With the Maverick Movement, Soto hopes to create a service that can be used as a model to help veterans across the nation. The Maverick Movement’s aim is to lessen the veteran suicide rate by pairing them with a “battle buddy,” a shelter dog that could be trained as a service dog.


Soto said there are not many veteran services offered in the Valley and many of those who need the help but do not know where to get it.


He has observed a lack of staffing at the Harlingen clinic and experienced the delay in scheduling appointments, and plans on attending the roundtable.


While he would like to be part of the possible solutions discussed Monday, he is committed to not just leaving it up to the government, and challenges all of his “brothers” to reach out and continue their service.


aperez@themonitor and

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