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Del Rio: No Veteran Left Behind

A man is testing medical equipment out at a health fair as he sits in front a of a nurse.
South Texas VA Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) Nurse Manager Neil McElligott goes over some of the medical equipment and testing done through the HBPC program with Veteran Marco Perez Jr. The South Texas VA HBPC program is now offering Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) Home Health, Home Hospice, Community Nursing Home, Medical Foster Home, and home telehealth services to Val Verde County Veterans.

Continuing their “No Veteran Left Behind” tour, the South Texas VA once again hit the road with a caravan of specialists.

This time the caravan headed West to the town of Del Rio, Texas, right on the Mexican border, and in the far corner of the South Texas VA catchment area.

Del Rio is also home to almost 2,200 Veterans according to the United States Census Bureau. which many of those are seniors. That was the focus of this trip, highlighting the new Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC) Home Health, Home Hospice, Community Nursing Home, Medical Foster Home, and home telehealth services that are scheduled to launch in early October.

The programs are being added because area Veterans are forced to make the two-plus hour journey to Kerrville or longer to the main hospital in San Antonio.

Kim Oakman, Chief Nurse of Home and Community Based Services is excited about the launch and growing VA’s healthcare footprint. “HBPC and Home Telehealth will be very beneficial for homebound Veterans,” Oakman said. “We want preventive care for Veterans. HBPC is an entire disciplinary team in place to care for the Veteran and support their caregiver,” Oakman added.

One local couple, Hipolito and Catalina Jimenez, came out to the event to get some information on new program options. “There was more stuff that we needed to know about the services that are rendered,” Hipolito said. “The answers that we received for me and my wife were outstanding.”

Catalina said they were having some issues with community care. They came to get some answers and spent almost an hour at the long group of tents set outside of the Val Verde County Veterans office building.

But not all Veterans were coming to find out how to enroll in hospice, nursing home care or home health. Vietnam Veterans like Oletha Walker showed up because a fellow Vet stopped at his door with a flyer so he came with questions about getting the COVID booster shot. When asked about the challenges of being a rural Veteran, Walker said he takes advantage of some of the programs, but it is hard at times. “Getting your prescriptions is easy. I just call the 1-800 number and it gets sent in the mail,” Walker said.

He has his doctor in Kerrville, Texas, but COVID presented new challenges. Many of the appointments in Kerrville were cancelled or converted to telehealth visits to protect patients from the virus.

“Sometimes it’s tough if you have to get the care. If you have an emergency, you have to go here [Del Rio]. Some of the places have a fee and it can get expensive,” Walker said.

Telehealth can pose challenges with the Del Rio group. The Census Bureau estimates that only 65 percent of Del Rio residents have broadband internet. The South Texas team came with options. If telehealth isn’t a good fit, community care or HBPC are available options. It’s about customizing care for each Veteran.

Even if you were not looking to get into home care or a nursing home, there was something for everyone at the event. The caravan consisted of Patient Administration Services, transportation, women’s health and enrollment and eligibility.

What these services all had in common is they brought important information to Del Rio vets. For some, the kind of information that will put money back in their pockets. “Most of the Veterans that stopped at my table were registered and service connected, but were not aware they qualified for healthcare cost-free,” said Enrollment & Eligibility supervisor, Joanna Sierra. “They were seeing private providers in Del Rio and paying copayments,” Sierra said.

It’s bringing that relief to Veterans and reducing their anxiety that makes the trip so worthwhile. “Veterans and their family members expressed how thankful they were for us to start services in Del Rio,” said Dr. Sandra Sanchez-Reilly, Associate Chief of Staff for Geriatrics and Extended Care. “I believe some will be reluctant to receive services because they want to be independent. We must stay embedded in the community to show them we are staying and are here to help,” Sanchez-Reilly said.

Oakman said the long-term goal is to keep Veterans at home with their loved ones as long as possible. “We have these services in San Antonio, and now they will be available for Veterans in Del Rio,” Oakman said. “We understand Veterans may require nursing home placement and want to ease the burden for families by providing this service.”


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