Veterans' Health Care

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Four mornings a week, two vans with government tags and volunteer drivers make the rounds of the Rio Grande Valley. They're picking up veterans for a five-hour trip to the nearest veterans hospital in San Antonio.

The so-called "vet vans" are seen as a blessing and a sore point. They're free, and invaluable to those too sick to drive or who don't have a reliable car.

But the vets question why a region with an estimated 45-thousand to 80-thousand veterans has no hospital to serve them locally.

The Rio Grande Valley along the U-S-Mexico border has two outpatient clinics -- one in Harlingen and one in McAllen. But they're so understaffed it can take three to six months for an appointment.

In December, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison announced a new, 30-thousand-square-foot, outpatient clinic would be open in June 2007 in Harlingen's hospital district.

Valley veterans say that's an improvement -- but still not enough.