Organization Working to Improve Health Care for Veterans

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EDINBURG – Receiving quality health care in a timely manner is a challenge most veterans face. However, Rio Grande Valley VA clinics are working to improve the situation.

The Freddy Gonzalez American Legion Post 408 in Edinburg is where many veterans spend their time. They come to share stories, work on their latest community service project and talk about some of their worries.

One of their biggest concerns is health care.

“From diabetes to cancer, PTSD to kidney problems - you name it, I’ve had just about all of them,” Vietnam veteran Antonio Diaz said. “It took 27 years to get the VA to acknowledge I did have problems.”

Diaz said he wants to see a doctor in a timely manner and not have to wait weeks, months, or even years.

“Lately, I’ve had a problem getting an appointment with a neurosurgeon. I’ve been trying to get an appointment for over a month now. Still don’t have one, still waiting,” he said.

Rene Rodriguez is the chaplain for Post 408. He was just 20 years old when he was drafted to serve in Vietnam. He said for the most part, he has no complaints.

Rodriguez said he’s waited for more than a year to get his dental work done.

“We’ve gone back and forth from my dentist to the VA. I’ve got chipped teeth, cracked teeth,” he explained.

Concerns and complaints like these are what the VA Texas Coastal Bend Health Care System is trying to change. They became an independent VA healthcare system in October 2010. 

They provide health care at clinics in Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, Laredo and Corpus Christi. Doctors and healthcare professionals are on site to address all their health concerns.

At the clinics, veterans can get general health checkups for vision, hearing, diabetes, as well as mental health and specialty care. Women can also get gynecological exams.

Joe Perez, director of VA Texas Coastal Bend Health Care System, said their goal is to have veterans see their doctor or specialist within 30 days. He spoke about the latest wait times in 2017.

“In primary care, the average wait time is three days. For specialty care, it’s about five days and for mental health about two days,” Perez explained.

It’s an improvement, but Perez admitted they can do better.

Texas Coastal Bend is starting a pilot program called High Performing Network in McAllen. 

“For any veteran that comes into our clinic that we’re unable to provide care through our own resources, we’ll actually authorize that care out in the community and that authorization and appointment be given to them that same day,” he said.

Veterans will be able to see a doctor or specialist of their choice in the Valley with the Choice Program.

That’s welcoming news for veterans. It brought a smile to Rene Rodriguez’s face.

Valley Texas Coastal Bend is trying to reach as many veterans as they can to explain several community outreach programs. Representatives can make presentations at town hall meetings, VFW’s or American Legion Posts.

They are trying to enroll more veterans so they can get the health care they're entitled to. 

Administrators said there are currently an estimated 96,000 veterans in the Coastal Bend area. Out of those, only 36,000 are enrolled. 

In 2017, the VA clinics in the Coastal Bend area set up more than 235,000 appointments for veterans.

If anyone would like more information about the VA Texas Coastal Bend Health Care System, they can visit their Facebook page or call 956-291-9340.

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