We are at a critical juncture in the fight to save Battle Mountain Sanitarium. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it will move forward with assessing the proposed closure of the Hot Springs medical facility pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
While the National Trust for Historic Preservation supports the VA’s acknowledgement that it must comply with this key federal law, we are dismayed that the agency is giving any further consideration to the closure of Battle Mountain Sanitarium despite consistent, powerful concern expressed by veterans, members of Congress, community leaders, preservationists and other stakeholders who wish to see the National Historic Landmark medical facility remain in use for veterans’ care.
For more than a century, Battle Mountain Sanitarium has met the unique health care needs of veterans in South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. The facility has also served as a vital element in the local economy of Hot Springs. If the VA closes Battle Mountain Sanitarium, veterans in the area will be forced to seek treatment at other medical facilities in their network that are anywhere from 50 to 100 miles further away — or be pushed to a private-sector health care center system that may lack training or services used specifically by veterans.
The National Trust will continue to work with the VA and local partners to make certain that informed decisions are made at Battle Mountain Sanitarium and at hundreds of other historic VA hospitals across the country. In a report we issued last fall, “Honoring Our Nation’s Veterans: Saving Their Places of Health Care and Healing,” we found that the VA’s implementation of its own historic properties management policies is deficient.
Evidence of this comes from the VA’s pattern of noncompliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires the VA to look at the effects of its plans on historic properties, and NEPA which mandates that the VA publically evaluate the impacts of project alternatives when reaching a decision about the future use of its VA facilities. These laws are implemented to not only protect the historic structures but also ensure that the public’s voice is heard regarding the future use of the facilities.
The National Trust encourages the Hot Springs and Black Hills community members, and all others served by Battle Mountain Sanitarium, to take full advantage of this opportunity to continue to speak out and advocate for the preservation and continued use of Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
Recently, South Dakota’s congressional leaders weighed in and requested that the VA make certain that Section 106 requirements are “fully met and proper consideration is given to historic buildings.” We thank Congress for keeping a watchful eye over Battle Mountain Sanitarium and urging the VA to see this review and compliance process as a necessary step to reach an objective decision that is in the best interest of veterans and their medical care.
It is essential that we all continue to hold the VA accountable for preservation decisions made about the future use of historic buildings at their properties across the country. We owe it to our veterans to ensure that they continue to receive the best possible medical care. Battle Mountain Sanitarium’s legacy, and the veterans’ medical care that is provided on this campus, are far too valuable to be mishandled.