HARLINGEN — Sizzling burgers and even hotter wheels took some of the chill out of the day yesterday as veterans and medical staffers celebrated Veterans Day at the Harlingen VA Outpatient Clinic.

The barbecued burgers and hot dogs, and a car show in the VA parking lot, were part of the celebration. There also was a more serious side, with the events running in tandem with a benefits fair at the facility.

“A lot of our volunteers come and do the 21-gun salute, the hoisting of the colors, are veterans who have been coming to our facilities for a long time and love the care they are getting here,” said Jamie Goodpastor, public affairs officer for the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System.

“Bringing the community here together, it’s just kind of part of the VA culture,” she added. “It’s more than just coming to the clinic. People see each other for years and friendships are formed. That’s all part of it. You can’t really experience that in other clinical, medical-type settings. The people who are walking through those doors shared experiences with their brothers and sisters that nobody else can really relate to.”

The Veterans Day celebration this year also, it can be said, carried an extra degree of significance for the VA hospital and outpatient clinic in Harlingen.

After years of one-star facility ratings, in 2017 the VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System was upgraded to a two-star rating.

In July, the Texas Valley Coastal Bend system’s progress was further rewarded with a three-star rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“All veterans, whether they served one day or 30 years, everybody, it changes them,” Goodpastor said. “When they walk through those doors, there’s familiarity and there’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.”