La Feria News

State funding for Valley VA Hospital would have major economic benefit for Valley, Texas, says Rep. Martínez

by David A. Díaz [email protected]

Seeking to secure state funding for a full-service Veterans Administration Hospital in deep South Texas, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, on Wednesday, April 17, said that state financial support for the long sought-after medical facility would eventually help create thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic activity for the region and state.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerrville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley.

Martínez, who is the lead author of House Bill 665, wants the Legislature to allow the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and the Speaker of the House to use money from the Texas Enterprise Fund – which currently has more than $141 million in its bank account – to help speed up the development of a VA Hospital for the Rio Grande Valley.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, are joint authors of Martínez’ HB 665.
Although funding for the Texas Enterprise Fund has been provided in the past by the Texas Legislature, grants from the TEF is controlled by the governor, lt. governor, and speaker of the house.

“We want to use state money from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which was established for the purposes of creating jobs and aiding in the economic development of a community,” Martínez said. “Through TEF, state funds currently are used to help traditional businesses. By investing in establishing, maintenance, and operations of veterans hospitals, (House Bill 665) will fulfill the purpose of the Texas Enterprise Fund while at the same time increasing the standard of living for our veterans.”

Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, left, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. Canales and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, are joint authors of Martínez HB 665. Photo: David A. Díaz/

The TEF is a cash grant used as a financial incentive tool for projects that offer significant projected job creation and capital investment and where a single Texas site is competing with another viable out-of-state option. Additionally, the TEF will only be considered to help close a deal that already has significant local support behind it from a prospective Texas community.

During his testimony on April 17 before the House Committee on Economic and Small Business Development, Martínez focused on the jobs-creation and economic development advantages of Texas helping create a full-service VA Hospital in the Valley.

Currently, the Valley – a major metropolitan region with more than 1.3 million residents – is served by an outpatient clinic in Harlingen. Another one, under construction in McAllen, is set to open later this year.

He contended that allowing the state to use TEF resources for a Valley VA Hospital – or for any other federal VA Hospital in Texas – is consistent with the goals of the Texas Enterprise Fund.

Martínez noted that hospitals encourage economic growth through the creation of jobs, including for physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and so on. In addition, hospitals create non-medical jobs, such as cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, and administrators.

“For example, the economic impact of the Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine is projected at more than $227 million for the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, with more than 3,300 direct, indirect and induced jobs paying more than $138 million in annual earnings,” Martínez illustrated.

According to its website, Baylor Regional Medical Center is a full-service, fully-accredited not-for-profit hospital serving residents in more than 20 cities throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth region. The 276-bed hospital offers advanced medical services for cardiovascular services, women’s services, diagnostic imaging, neonatal intensive care, sleep disorders, intensive and emergency care.

“Beyond the positive economic impact, there is a need in the Valley for a veterans hospital. It takes our veterans hours to get to the nearest veterans hospital in San Antonio,” he continued. “Using the Texas Enterprise Fund for veterans hospitals is not a difficult decision – an investment by our state can spur economic growth, and Texas would benefit from significant economic returns.”

Martínez reminded committee members that it was the Valley state legislative delegation in a previous legislation session that makes it possible for Texas to invest state money to help in the development of federal VA Hospitals.

Allowing the Texas Legislature to use state funds, such as using money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to pay for VA Hospital projects, was made possible in 2009 by then-Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Mission, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Flores and Hinojosa passed the legislation in 2009 that put Proposition 9 on the November 2009 statewide constitutional amendment ballot.

By an overwhelming majority – more than 75 percent – Texas voters on Tuesday, November 3, 2009, approved passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that authorizes the state government to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in Texas.

The passage of Proposition 8 clears any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley, Flores said at the time.

The public hearing on HB 665 comes a little more than two months after South Texas congressmen in Washington, D.C. introduced federal legislation to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to also help create an inpatient VA Hospital in the Valley.

“We will continue to fight along with our veterans for a full service hospital in the Rio Grande Valley,” Congressman Rubén Hinojosa said on February 6, after he, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Filemón Vela, D-Brownsville, filed their bill, entitled “Meeting the Inpatient Health Care Needs of Far South Texas Veterans Act of 2013.

“It is simply outrageous that our veterans have to travel for hours to a full service veteran’s hospital in San Antonio,” said Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. “It is a hardship not only for our veterans but for their families as well. We need a full service veteran’s hospital in south Texas now.”

The Hinojosa/Cuellar/Vela bill outlines the necessity of a full service, inpatient hospital. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates over 100 thousand veterans reside in Far South Texas. Travel time for our veterans to receive acute inpatient hospital care can sometimes exceed six hours.

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