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Letter last Friday cites two years of unanswered


WASHINGTON, D.C. — South Dakota Senators John Thune and Tim Johnson, along with Representative Kristi Noem, sent a letter last Friday to Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki calling for him to return Hot Springs’ Black Hills Health Care System (BHHCS) to full operation pointing to a lack of leadership and breach of good faith by the VA over the past two years.

The letter outlines concerns with the VA’s proposal which was introduced without providing any cost-benefit analysis to support the changes. The letter also questions the VA’s decision to move the Compensated Work Therapy program that was approved for BHHCS but was instead relocated to Walla Walla, Wash.

The delegation writes: “We are growing impatient with the lack of attention the VA has given to this matter. After two years of discussion and the tireless dedication of the Save the VA Committee and other stakeholders, the VA should certainly have made more progress by this point.  However, given the remaining discrepancies concerning the data used by the VA to formulate its proposal and the lack of consideration afforded to alternatives, we again request that the VA make efforts to return the Hot Springs campus to its former levels of operations and staff before conducting a five-year review to gather new data.”

Patrick Russell, chairman of the Save the VA committee, issued a press release on Friday evening, mentioning the House vote on Monday (see story, Page A1) as well as the Congressional’s letter on Friday.

“On behalf of the Save the VA Committee I would like to thank Senator Tim Johnson, Senator John Thune and Representative Kristi Noem for their continuing efforts to get an honest assessment of the capabilities of the Hot Springs VA and an unbiased decision from Secretary Shinseki which will do what is right for our rural veterans,” the press release reads. “The letter to the Secretary reiterated the desire of our delegation to see services restored to the Hot Springs VA to establish baseline data to support the Secretary’s decision.”

The letter notes that the removal of the Rapid City project from the lease act and the delegation’s letter are not total victories but are “more chapters in the continuing story of doing what is right for our nation’s heroes.”

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Save the VA prevailed upon Shinseki as well.

“Secretary Shinseki, do what is right for your troops, restore services to the Hot Springs VA and use those construction dollars to enhance services to our rural veterans!”

The full text of the Congressional’s letter, as well as the response from Save the VA are available at

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