A federal veterans care facility has been located in Hot Springs for more than a century, but relations between the community and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have deteriorated since the VA announced in December that it would close most of its facilities in Hot Springs.

Since then, Hot Springs has been trying to negotiate with the VA to keep at least some of the VA's facilities open. In June, the Save the VA committee presented an alternative plan to create a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center and expand outpatient clinic services at the existing VA facilities. The proposal also includes education and job training for veterans, along with the PTSD treatment center at the VA’s domiciliary, as a national demonstration project.

In addition, Save the VA suggested starting up a “Veterans Industries” company that would develop a product line, splitting proceeds between the VA to offset treatment costs and for community development projects in Hot Springs.

However, a Sept. 10 meeting between the committee and Black Hills Health Care System broke down when VA officials said they could not negotiate on its plan.

South Dakota's congressional delegation sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki expressing disappointment in the breakdown in negotiations and stating that "trust has been lost, relationships damaged, and many fear that the actions of the BHHCS over the past ten months were all for show."

The letter was signed by South Dakota Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem, Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, and Nebraska Sen. Mike Hohanns and Rep. Adrian Smith. The senators and representatives are asking to meet with Shinseki to discuss the VA's plans and that the meeting take place in Hot Springs.

Throughout this process, Hot Springs officials, Save the VA members, veterans and members of Congress have complained that the VA has not been acting with full transparency and has not been willing to listen to area veterans and local citizens about their concerns about the VA's plans to pull out of Hot Springs.

The VA provided little documentation for its reorganization plan when it was announced. It was only because of public pressure that the VA did an economic analysis of its proposal, which, naturally, justified its plans as a cost savings.

The latest development strengthens the belief that the VA intends to follow through on its plan to abandon Hot Springs without regard to local concerns. Black Hills Health Care System director Steve DiStasio promised to study an alternative proposal by Save the VA, but now the VA won't even pretend to take it seriously.

It will take more than a strongly worded letter from members of Congress to shake the VA from its reorganization plan for Black Hills Health Care System. It seems obvious that the VA has been misleading local, state and congressional leaders and the Hot Springs community from the beginning. Congressional oversight may be the only option that remains.

(10) comments

Pat59
Pat59

Have noticed a few discrepancies. the Domicillary is capable of handling 600 patients and has had as many as 580 patients as late as 1984. The facility had at one time its own Machinest, Mechanic, Grounds keeper, GreenHouse Manager\Gardener, Chief Boiler Engineer,Electical Engineer, Plumming Engineer. Structural Enginner, chief Engineer, ect.. ect.. if u can think of it they had the staff for it. these jobs no longer exist there. The jobs buy out process has slowly destroyed this VA. The VA will not staff a position at a facility that no longer exist there. when the Administrator there retiered back in the 80's he took the buyout. there is no Head administrative position available at the HS VA. There is no machinest position,mechanic, Chief Plummer ect..ect all for the same reason. Im writing this for all the VA's out there if u have higher level people at ur VA incourage them to not take the buyout. Keep your VA. It is probably too late for ours don't let this happen to you. Watch out! our VA was voted by the Veterans as the top VA in the VA system. If this facility closes what will happen to the State Home and its requirement to have a medical facility near by to care for the retiered Vet's there. I havent heard anyone address those issues. what about them? Closing this VA is just a bad idea. if ur gona close one of the two VA's around the Black Hills why not FT.Mead its mostly closed anyway.

SunnyL8
SunnyL8

Sunny
I think the VA needs to get their priorities straight. The local news has reported that they have just finished a $7million dollar veterns cemetery on the Rosebud reservation --that reservation has about 4000living vets. And they just broke ground on a $6.5million dollar cemetery east of Kyle. I believe in respecting deceased veterens But that is pretty hefty prices when they don't want to consider care for the local living vetererns at the Hot Springs VA

sohillsgal
sohillsgal

Jonnnn. I grew up in SD but never lived in the Hills in the 50's & 60's. I am a highly educated professional (not empIoyed by the VA or currently in health care) who moved back to SD about 10 years ago from the East Coast. We chose Hot Springs over Rapid or the Northern Hills for the quality of life, year round recreation, mild winters, and find plenty to keep us occupied & entertained here. We have had young VA Doctors & their families who owned homes & wanted to stay here. However, some in this VISN appear to be creating the numbers that support their end goal. The young Drs moved as they were told this VA would only offer temporary postitions, not permanant. FOIA requests showed that the reason there are so few beds occupied is they only put enough staff on duty for 5 beds. All other patients who present for admission are diverted to Ft Meade, hence it supports their theory that we don't need more beds. Our PTSD program has a waiting list months long. Again, if we let the patient demand determine how much staff we have, instead of the staffing determining how many patients we take in, it would show a completely different story. If you are a Veteran suffering with PTSD & substance abuse, wouldn't a serene, peaceful, supportive environment do a better job than the noise & triggers of a big city? Plus Vets have testified that when they were released from care in Rapid without a home or family to go to, they were dropped off at the Cornerstone Mission. Is that the care our Veterans deserve?

Jonnnnn
Jonnnnn

Rapid City is not a big city - by any measure. Interesting perspective - build the hospital, staff it and they, the patients, will come. Costner was in a movie with that theme - Field of Dreams; yes, there was a field, and yes, it was a dream. If the premise of building and staffing it were true doesn't one suppose that every little Bugtussle would clamor for a federal and state handout in order that they too, could build it, staff it, and they will come. Maintaining a VA facility in HS is the epitome of federal waste.Times and needs changed and its long past the time for HS and Fort Meade to change. The young doctors do not want to stay in these communities, rather they are stopping by for a few years to pay med school debts or get forgiveness of part of those debts in exchange for government service and or service in remote communities- regardless of what they tell you. Talk to a medical school placement officer, or doctors who left, etc.

sohillsgal
sohillsgal

There is one big difference between HSVAMC and the Costner movie. This is already built, they are already coming,and are waiting in line for admitance. The difference is we are turning them away or shuttling them hours away as administration has chosen not to staff the hospital to meet the demand. And I have talked to the Doctors that left. They were my neighbors. They wanted to raise their family in the safe small town environment they grew up in. And they weren't the only ones.

JSmeed
JSmeed

Sen. Mike Hohanns- It's Senator Mike Johanns.

GW Rider
GW Rider

Mr. Rasmussen is correct. The VA has been misleading the communities involved, and most disturbingly, the many veterans who rely on these facilities. If the VA has a legitimate plan that they believe makes sense, then produce it. Why not be transparent with your plans - I am sure the VA's reason for doing something like this is for the betterment of care for veterans, right? Probably not - more typical a decision made elsewhere with really no intent of involving the community or veterans. This is evidenced by DiStasio stating the alternate proposal would be studied, then not taking it serious. Typical bureaucrat who really doesn't care about veterans. Where is the honor and integrity in stating you will do something then seemingly ignoring it?

Jonnnnn
Jonnnnn

It must be wonderful to perennially live in the 1950s or 1960s.HS VA has a 200 bed hospital that usually has 5 patients. 10 on a busy night. HS, like Sturgis, cannot recruit young professional families because they refuse to offer the attributes such families seek: high quality primary and secondary educations, indoor and outdoor recreation, an educated community with diverse interests and offerings. Veterans like me will receive better healthcare at a consolidated facility in Rapid City. Having regional VA healthcare in RC, HS, & Sturgis would be as silly as having VA healthcare in SF, Brookings, and Arlington. The Civil War veterans are gone; horse cavalry is gone. Fort Meade is next. Like an aged parent HS and Sturgis need to face the reality of their aging; and they probably won't die, yet the towns only future is being satellite communities of RC.

gertie
gertie

Not sure why you (and many others) believe that all services,amenities,healthcare, etc. must be in Rapid City, nor why you are interested in your tax dollars going to a new facility that is not needed. The majority of the veterans who receive care at VA Hot Springs come not from the north (RC) but from Nebraska, Wyoming, and Pine Ridge areas, to name a few. Most are not interested in driving yet another hour to receive care.
Using your logic that a large city is better for veteran healthcare, perhaps it's best if all area VA care is moved to Denver. Would you be happy driving to Denver for your appointments? Probably not, but consider how someone who already drives several hours would feel about having to go to Rapid City or Sturgis.
I've lived in large cities (Los Angeles, Phoenix, Fargo), but have lived in Hot Springs for the past 24 years. Is Hot Springs the greatest small town in the world? - no, of course there is always room for improvement. However, I still believe that it is the right thing to keep the Hot Springs VA open and return the services that have been cut over the years. In case you have not noticed, there are thousands of veterans returning from the current overseas conflict.....

sohillsgal
sohillsgal

Many in Rapid CIty & the Northern Hills are probably wondering why they should even care. Some may think that they should close Hot Springs VAMC and spend almost $100 million to move it an hour up the road to Rapid. Where is the outrage over this flagrant waste of taxpayer dollars? You should also be aware Mr DiStasio has stated on the record that Ft Meade is next. Deeper digging shows a trend towards ending Veterans care as we know it. Do you want the VA to become a third party insurance plan with all care outsources? Do you want to lose the coordinated care the VA provides, that a Dr can connect the dots between your military service and medical problems you are having that a civilian doctor may miss?

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