Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Sharp has endorsed the approval of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment designed to help bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to deep South Texas.

Earlier this fall, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, also endorsed the passage of Proposition 8, which is one of 11 proposed constitutional amendments that will be facing Texas voters.

On Tuesday, September 29, Sharp called on all Texas voters to say yes to Proposition 8, which is one of 11 state constitutional amendments set for action by state voters on Tuesday, November 3.

"I urge all Texans to join me in voting for Proposition 8," Sharp said. "It will help us do what should have been done a long time ago give these heroes the care they deserve in their own communities."

Sharp, a Victoria native and former Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, said that the passage of Proposition 8 "would be another important step in the longstanding effort to bring medical attention and health care to the more than 115,000 military veterans living in South Texas."

Proposition 8 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."

Proposition 8 has

strong Valley roots

Proposition 8 has strong Valley roots with area veteran group leaders organized under an umbrella group known as the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley, and local legislators spearheading the effort last spring with the passage of House Joint Resolution 7 (HJR 7), which placed the issue on the statewide ballot as Proposition 8.

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, Rep. Armando "Mando" Mart-nez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, were authors of HJR 7. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was sponsor of HJR 7, with Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, serving as cosponsor of the legislation.

Sharp said Proposition 8 is significant because for the first time it allows Texas to take the lead in authorizing financial resources, property donations, construction costs, and equipment for veterans' facilities, instead of having to rely exclusively on Washington, D.C.

Proposition 8 will help all regions of the state but especially South Texas, where congressional and local officials, veterans' activists, and other community leaders have worked for years to overcome federal obstacles that would make it possible for veterans to seek medical care closer to home without having to travel hundreds of miles to San Antonio, Sharp added.

Sharp said that even if Proposition 8 is approved by voters this November, the final step will still be passage of federal legislation authorizing a Veterans Administration hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. Proposals to build a facility have stalled in the United States senate for years.

Texas congressional

support also solid

Flores said the national legislation, which has been led by the Valley congressional delegation all Democrats and the state's two U.S. senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both Republicans, makes clear the need for the medical complex.

"Federal legislation currently pending in Congress has further emphasized that the Rio Grande Valley is deserving of a comprehensive, fully staffed, full-service VA Hospital complex, and under the scenario envisioned by Congress, this medical facility should be valued at about $175 million," said Flores.

Building a VA Hospital in deep South Texas would have an impact beyond the Rio Grande Valley, said Mart-nez.

"A Valley-based VA Hospital would not only serve local veterans but also scores of veterans from all parts of Texas and Mexico, and those veterans from other regions of the United States who make their residence in deep South Texas during the winter months," Mart-nez noted.

Hinojosa, a former U.S. Marine combat squad leader in Vietnam, added that "the passage of Proposition 8 is essential in order to allow Texas, beyond question, and with the power of the will of the people in support, to contribute to a federal initiative to build, operate, and maintain veterans hospitals in the Valley."

Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg, last spring explained why a VA Hospital in the Valley is needed, even as the federal government continues to make improvements to the veterans health care systems in the region.

"The current facilities for veterans health care in the Valley are manifestly inadequate; the VA presently operates several outpatient clinics in the region, but these do not offer the full range of services, including testing and therapy, available in San Antonio. Moreover, the VA has failed to pay the bills of many veterans who have had to seek emergency care at a local hospital," Peña said. "In addition, although there are plans to contract with area hospitals to provide some inpatient veterans care, the medical personnel in those facilities are unlikely to have the necessary expertise in treating the injuries and psychological trauma sustained by combat veterans."

Early voting October 19 through October 30

For Texans who will not be able to cast their ballots on November 3, early voting is scheduled to begin on Monday, October 19 and last through Friday, October 30, according to Texas Secretary of State Esperanza "Hope" Andrade. Voters may contact their county elections office to determine polling locations, hours and if early voting will be available on the weekend.

According to the House Research Organization (HRO), which is the nonpartisan legislative research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, about 1.7 million veterans currently live in Texas.

Also according to the HRO, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans' hospitals in Texas in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200, Cameron County, 392,746, Starr County, 62,249, and Willacy County, 20,600).

Veterans struggle with trips to VA Hospital in San Antonio

For thousands of current and future veterans who live in deep South Texas, in order for them and their families to benefit from comprehensive crucial medical services for which they are entitled, they must travel to the nearest VA Hospital in San Antonio, which is up to 250 miles away, the HRO report found. Such trips for South Texas veterans to the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital in San Antonio, those journeys, which can take up to five hours one way by car, represent financial and personal hardships for them and their families.

In considering legislation last spring such as Proposition 8, Texas lawmakers documented the serious roadblocks facing area veterans who needed to get to the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital for medical care.

Among those severe challenges were:

• Veterans requesting appointments at the facility in San Antonio typically wait months to be seen, even for serious conditions; for those who cannot drive themselves, or who cannot afford to drive, van transportation is provided by veterans service groups;

• The lengthy trip, however, adds to the patients' physical distress; no ambulances are available to convey veterans to San Antonio, which makes the journey especially difficult for those who are bedridden;

• Once veterans arrive in San Antonio, they often wait hours for an appointment that may take only 15 minutes, or they may find that their appointment has been canceled; they may also discover that they need to stay overnight, which adds to the time-consuming nature of their trip and to its expense; and

• For veterans who must go to San Antonio several times a month, the time lost to travel can make it difficult to hold a job; the demands of such a trip also place a great burden on family members who have to take time off from work, and possibly arrange for child care, to drive a veteran to San Antonio, and who may need to make such trips for many years; the cost of gas and meals, in addition to the expense of lodging, if that is required, substantially exceeds the prescribed travel allowance.

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