The Veterans Affairs Department said it was a mistake that its 2014 budget request included $10 million for facilities in Rapid City that don't exist -- yet. It may have been a mistake to include the money in the department's 2014 budget, but, make no mistake about it, the VA's plan to close its veterans health care facilities in Hot Springs is still very much alive.
Unless the federal budget process is much worse than we thought -- $10 million spending requests randomly appearing for no reason – the VA has every intention of closing the VA medical center in Hot Springs and moving it to Rapid City. It's just a matter of when.
The, uh, errant budget request was for $10 million to lease and "build out" 108,000 square feet of space in Rapid City for a Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program facility and Multi-Specialty Outpatient Clinic.
That's a pretty detailed spending request for something that hasn't yet been approved.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was surprised by the budget proposal and the Save the VA group in Hot Springs was shocked by it.
Shocking, yes, but only because the VA asked for the money before it had overcome opposition to the move. Apparently, the budget writers in Washington, D.C., were unaware that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki had told South Dakota's congressional delegation and members of Save the VA that a final decision on closing most of the Hot Springs VA facilities had not been made.
Shinseki apologized to Johnson and called the budget request an "oversight." Maybe Shinseki should look at his department's budget more closely before it is sent to Congress. Little wonder that federal spending is out of control.
Another meeting between a delegation from the Save the VA group, South Dakota's congressional delegation and the VA is scheduled next week.
It appears that it will be necessary to secure more assurances from VA Secretary Shinseki that his department has not already made a decision, and that it is keeping an open mind on other options and alternatives to abandoning Hot Springs.
After the VA's budget "oversight," it will require vigilance on the part of supporters of the Hot Springs VA to ensure that the VA doesn't engage in any more budgetary sleight of hand.