A constitutional amendment which could speed up efforts to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to the Valley has been set as Proposition 8 in the Tuesday, Nov. 3 statewide constitutional amendments ballot, said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.
The announcement came following action taken by Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, who on July 28, established the ballot order for the VA Hospital measure and 10 other proposed amendments — called propositions — to the Texas Constitution.
The ballot order was determined by Andrade through a random drawing by her in Austin.
Proposition 8, the result of legislation spearheaded by Valley veterans and successfully carried through the Texas Legislature last spring by Flores, who was the author of the measure, reads: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state."
The last day to register to vote in November's election is Oct. 5.
Flores said Proposition 8, if approved by Texas voters in the statewide election, would benefit thousands of Valley veterans, and would help federal efforts in Washington, D.C. to bring a VA Hospital to the border region.
According to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, South Texas has one of the highest per capita levels of veterans in the nation. The estimated 100,000 veterans in South Texas are sometimes forced to drive up to 250 miles to San Antonio for inpatient medical care.
Flores said the state government also has the responsibility — and resources — to help make the VA Hospital a reality.
Flores, himself a U.S. Army veteran, said he envisions "a partnership where the state government will pay for site and for the construction of a VA Hospital in the Valley and the U.S. Veterans Administration, which administers the hospitals, will pay for its operating and maintenance expenses."
Proposition 8 also represents a "clarion call" — an urgent or inspiring appeal to people to do something — for the Valley, the lawmaker said.
"Now we have it within our reach — by the democratic power of the ballot box — to triumph over every obstacle that has been used to block deep South Texas from having a long-overdue VA Hospital," said Flores. "We must get our message out: vote yes for Proposition 8."
In previous legislative sessions, Flores was the key architect of legislative measures that resulted in the construction of the Alfredo GonzĂˇlez Texas State Veterans Home in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission.
He also was author of a measure, approved by lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session in late May, which provides disabled veterans up to a 100 percent tax break from paying property taxes on their principal home.
As Flores ramps up the campaign to seek passage of Proposition 8, Cornyn was calling on President Obama to make good on the president's campaign promise to support a VA Hospital in the Valley.
Cornyn on July 23, responded to comments made the previous day in San Antonio by U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki indicating the VA will take a wait-and-see approach regarding the construction of a full-scale VA hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. Secretary Shinseki said he first wants to see how well the newly expanded ambulatory care clinic in Harlingen meets the needs of Valley veterans.
"I urge Secretary Shinseki to be proactive in his efforts to meet the health care needs of our Valley veterans and explore every possible avenue to bring a full-scale VA hospital to the Valley," said Cornyn. "To that end, I call on my colleagues in the Senate to support my legislation that would pave the way for this full-scale hospital, as well as President Obama, who pledged during a campaign visit to the Valley last year to support this effort."
Also according to Cornyn:
On March 25, 2009, Cornyn re-introduced legislation to build a top-notch VA hospital for veterans in the Rio Grande Valley. Veterans there are currently forced to drive hours and travel up to hundreds of miles for access to inpatient health care, and Cornyn's Far South Texas Veterans Medical Center Act of 2009 helps close the gap by authorizing construction of a full VA hospital in Far South Texas to give these veterans more proximate access to inpatient medical care.
Cornyn's new legislation goes a step farther than his bill from the previous Congress by using stronger language to bring a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital to South Texas. It not only authorizes the VA to construct a hospital, it requires them to do so.
In the 110th Congress, Cornyn introduced the South Texas Veterans Access to Care Act, which would have directed the VA to examine and then choose one of three policy options for meeting deep South Texas veterans' inpatient health care needs:
â€˘ Public-private venture to provide services at an existing facility;
â€˘ Construction of a new full-service, 50-bed hospital with a 125-bed nursing home; or
â€˘ A sharing agreement with a military treatment facility.
The bill would have required the VA Secretary to implement whichever option he selected. If he chose to build a new VA hospital, the bill would have authorized $175 million for that purpose.
After its introduction, Cornyn made several efforts to move the bill forward last Congress. In October 2007, he wrote to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee leaders, asking them to move his bill forward. On September 8, 2008, he filed his legislation as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill.
Proposition 8 will be among the "important decisions regarding possible amendments to our state's governing document," said Andrade. "I look forward to again working with election officials across our great state to ensure that our elections process remains fair, secure, and accessible."
Enacted in 1876, the Texas State Constitution has been amended more than 400 times.
Proposed constitutional amendments must pass by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the state legislature to be considered on the ballot. These eleven amendments were approved for consideration by the 81st Legislature and require a majority vote to be amended to the constitution.
"During these summer months, I encourage Texans to register to vote or update their registration if their address has recently changed to ensure they are eligible to cast their ballots in November," Andrade added. "I hope Texans will recognize the role they can play in our state's future and head to the polls this fall."