Sunday, May 28, 2006

What the San Antonio Express-News had to say

Veterans say care is slipping away

Scott Huddleston
Express-News Staff Writer

KERRVILLE — Vowing to fight as hard for fairness as they did for their nation, South Texas veterans are sounding a call for health care services in areas they say are underserved.

Amid budget cuts and revamping of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, the Kerrville Veterans Hospital, a full-service hospital in the 1990s, has been stripped of such specialties as cardiology, endocrinology, orthopedics and dermatology.

A contract for the urologist there will expire next month, forcing veterans in a 14-county area to go to San Antonio for treatment, Alan Hill, president of the Hill Country chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said at a rally Saturday.

Though routine procedures such as oral surgery, colonoscopies, podiatry care and X-rays are still done in Kerrville, Hill said the hospital will close by the end of the year, "if we don't put a stop to it."

"A nursing home with a clinic is all it'll be," he told about 120 supporters outside the hospital.

Local officials of the Veterans Affairs Department say there are no plans to close the Kerrville hospital.

Hill said veterans, one of the largest voting blocs in the nation, should take nothing for granted and be ready to vote against leaders who don't support veterans.

"They're lying to us. We've got to let them know we're tired of it," he said. "Vote someone else in who'll be pro-veteran."

President Bush asked for $34.3 billion for veterans health care next year, an 11.3 percent increase. But members of Congress, including Chet Edwards, D-Waco, questioned a recent budget resolution that would cut funding by about $6 billion between 2008 and 2011.

"I do not understand, and I can tell you it didn't come from this subcommittee, why somebody, somewhere, staff or otherwise, put together a budget resolution that's on the floor today" that would cut expenses, Edwards said during an April 6 meeting of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

Rick Bolanos of El Paso, a Vietnam veteran and Democratic challenger facing U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, also spoke at Saturday's rally.

Though Gulf War II has cost at least 2,465 lives, compared with 58,000 in Vietnam, Bolanos said many young veterans may not have access to counselors for post-traumatic stress, believed to affect 20 percent to 25 percent of veterans of Iraq.

"What you don't realize is we've lost more than 60,000 Vietnam veterans to suicide," he said.

After the rally, Sally Tarasoff, a former Army and VA nurse from Boerne, said the system needs to be built up to provide therapy for burn victims, counseling for veterans with delayed stress symptoms and lifetime care for vets with head wounds.

"What they're doing to the veterans is disgusting," she said.

A similar rally is set for 2 p.m. today near the McAllen VA Outpatient Clinic. Although the VA is building an outpatient clinic in Harlingen and contracts with hospitals in the area to provide routine surgery, patients must travel to San Antonio for most major procedures.

Tony Roman, a Vietnam veteran and one of about 20 San Antonians at the rally, said he blames leaders in Washington.

"They're trying to pay for the war on the backs of veterans," he said.

No comments: