McALLEN, Texas – With more than 1.7 million military veterans in Texas and just nine Veterans Affairs hospitals, long drives are not uncommon in some parts of the state with large veteran populations.
But veterans along the U.S.-Mexico border have had to travel five hours to San Antonio for decades for many procedures.
On Tuesday, Texas voters could enlist the state's aid in establishing more VA hospitals with Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would allow the state to partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs to build hospitals in the state. It is one of 11 propositions on the statewide ballot.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a co-author of the legislation that put the VA hospital question on the ballot, said he remembered making the drive from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio with his father, a disabled war veteran.
"If the voters of Texas approve this proposition ... it will send a very strong statement of intent from the voters to the state that we should partner with the federal government to make this happen," said Lucio, D-Brownsville. "It comes at a time when our veterans population has grown and medical services are needed."
In recent years, Veterans Affairs has bolstered its presence in Harlingen and plans to open a $40 million clinic at the University of Texas Regional Medical Education Center there.
Under the proposed change, Veterans Affairs would still be responsible for establishing the hospital, but the state could contribute money, property or other resources to assist the project.