No VA hospital for the Valley?

September 20, 2016

HARLINGEN — It looks like there might not be a need for a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.

Instead, more private hospitals might become part of the Veterans Administration health care network.

“We should not have to build hospitals where they might not be necessary,” Dr. Richard Stone, the VA’s principal deputy under secretary for health, said Monday after a news conference at the RegionalAcademicHealthCenter.

The Veterans Administration said its work with Rio GrandeValley hospitals has cut in half the denial of veterans’ medical claims in the last three months.

As more health care providers are more rapidly paid, more are expected to join the VA’s network, Hugo Martinez, the VA’s spokesman in Harlingen, said Monday.

Martinez said that means veterans are expected to get better access to health care.

For decades, many veterans have pushed for a VA hospital in the Valley.

But it’s expected the VA’s improved health care system, with its network of private hospitals, could provide the same services, officials said.

The Valley’s vast, rural landscape would make it difficult to determine a site for a hospital that would force many veterans to drive significant distances to access care, Stone said.

“We could make a decision to build a hospital but this is such a widely-dispersed community,” Stone said. “Where will we build it?”

Meanwhile, efforts to streamline the payment of veterans’ medical claims can help bring more business to struggling hospitals.

Across the United States, about 2,300 hospitals are struggling to stay in business, Stone said after the news conference.

“Our veterans can help stabilize those hospitals,” Stone said.

In the Valley, the VA is working with ValleyBaptistMedicalCenter and DoctorsHospital at Renaissance in Edinburg.

“If there’s a population that deserves the best service, it’s the veterans,” said Manny Vela, chief executive officer and president of Valley Baptist.

Stone denied the VA’s work with private hospitals is a step toward privatization of veterans’ health care.

“Americans expect their veterans to be cared for,” Stone said after the news conference. “We have a responsibility for the whole lifetime of a veteran. We are the only health care system in America that has a lifetime of commitment to its constituents.”