In return for their active duty, area veterans have one humble appeal: to be taken care of at a clinic close to home. With recent news that after 12 years they still won’t be provided with this service, the veterans are fuming and not entirely sure what to do about it.
“We have taken veterans from World War II, Korea and it’s a hardship on them to drive to Albuquerque. It’s a hardship for them to get out of a van after three hours. It’s just not right. Last year we took over 1,000 vets. We shouldn’t have to be doing this. We shouldn’t have to be carrying our veterans over there. That should be something the government should be doing for us,” said Magil Duran, a driver with the Southeastern New Mexico Vietnam Veterans of America’s Chapter 968’s van program.
On Wednesday, local veterans gathered at Roswell’s Veterans Memorial Hall to fashion a collective response to the harsh “no” they received from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, in reference to establishing a veterans clinic in Roswell. In a letter to U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., Shinseki wrote, “Roswell does not meet the primary care distance criteria for highly rural areas.” The threshold requirement is listed as 60 minutes or greater of drive time.
Artesia, which has fewer veterans than Roswell, has been awarded a new lease for its community-based outpatient clinic. This clinic, the letter reads, “will have expanded and improved space which will provide greater access for Roswell and Artesia veterans.” It remains unclear why Roswell was not the chosen locale for the clinic.
For 12 years, and under four VA leaders, John Taylor, who writes a veterans advocate column for the Daily Record, has fought for a clinic to service the 5,000-plus veterans who live in this area. Taylor has received four letters, all refusing this request.
“They’re building a brand new clinic in Artesia … Why is it that we didn’t get to bid on the new clinic? They didn’t even come to us or approach us,” Taylor said. He indicated that the decision ultimately seems political.
Attendees presented added complexities, such as medical personnel must often wait for long periods of time to get paid for treating veterans.
One problem prompted particularly impassioned responses. Harry McGraw, SENM Chapter 968 president, said area cab services that transport veterans who have Medicare charge Medicare $400 per individual.
Although a call to action was made, no one was quite sure how to respond. Some suggested signing a petition, others opted for Gov. Susana Martinez’s help and one gentleman requested that each veteran write a letter to President Barack Obama, as it’s an election year. The overriding sentiment was that the veterans need to keep meeting.
“If we have to march, we’ll march,” one woman said. “Ain’t the first time,” a voice in the crowd responded.