VA Heart of Texas Health Care Network, or VISN 17, serves a population of slightly over one million veterans residing in 134 counties stretching from the Oklahoma border to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The population in this large geographic area range from urban centers such as Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin, to largely rural areas such as Bonham and Kerrville, to the rapidly expanding and largely Hispanic Lower Rio Grande Valley. Several military installations in Central and South Texas afford the Network many opportunities to collaborate with the Department of Defense.
Our mission is to be a premier Network of integrated health care systems that provide optimal access, scope and quality healthcare to veterans; to be recognized for excellence in medical research and the education of healthcare professionals; to demonstrate continuous improvement and innovation in service delivery that has high patient satisfaction, is cost effective and anticipates changes in technology and the health care requirements of the population served; and to be a resource for national emergencies. We see ourselves as Veterans’ First Choice in Health Care.
At the time of its formation in 1995, the Network was comprised of seven medical centers – Dallas, San Antonio, Temple, Waco, Kerrville, Bonham and the former Marlin VA medical center – and a handful of community-based outpatient clinics. Shortly after its formation the Network’s seven medical centers were integrated to form three integrated health care systems – Bonham and Dallas became the VA North Texas Health Care System; Temple, Waco and the former Marlin facility became the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System; and San Antonio and Kerrville became the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. Today the Network, which employs almost 10,000 health care professionals operating under a budget of approximately $1.6 billion, is providing state-of-the-art health care, education, and research to enrolled veterans residing along either side of the “Interstate 35 corridor” of Texas. The three health care systems are supported by a Network of over 37 community-based outpatient clinics providing a full range of primary care and some specialty care services through VA-staffed or contract care. Some of the largest and most complex outpatient clinics are in Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, McAllen, and Harlingen. The outpatient clinics work in harmony with the larger and more complex medical centers serving as referral sources for medical centers and providing needed long-term follow-up and rehabilitative care and post hospital admission. Network facilities also house six nursing homes, four domiciliaries, one blind rehabilitation center, and two Spinal Cord Injury Centers. Principle academic affiliations are with University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, Texas A&M School of Medicine, the University of Texas Galveston Branch and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The VA Heart of Texas Health Care Network has a very large potential to continue growth despite projected decline for the veteran population in other parts of the country. The expanded use of community-based outpatient clinics has brought care within 30 miles or 30 minutes of more than 90% of veterans residing in the Network. The three health care systems vary in scope and complexity from large urban centers providing state-of-the-art healthcare, education, and research, to smaller rural facilities providing primary and long-term care services. These smaller facilities are also often the social and economic focal point for the community.
As the Department of Veterans Affairs evolves to meet the changing dynamics of veterans in America, so too does the Network with expanded specialized services in the Rio Grande Valley, to the Center of Excellence for Mental Health in Waco for the treatment and research of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, to the Polytrauma Centers in San Antonio and Dallas devoted to the care and seamless transition of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from the battlefield to rehabilitation.