Now that the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to conduct an environmental impact study on closing its VA campus in Hot Springs, it’s time for an honest assessment of the VA’s behavior since it announced two years ago that it planned to move its health care services to Rapid City.
In a word, the VA’s treatment of Hot Springs has been shameful.
Shortly after the VA’s announcement in December 2011 to leave Hot Springs, Steve DiStasio, director of VA Black Hills Health Care System, said he welcomed a discussion of possible alternatives, and that other ideas may be incorporated into the VA’s final plan.
Hot Springs residents formed the Save the VA committee, which worked on a weekly basis for months to create an alternative use for the VA’s facility in Hot Springs. Their proposal was to use the century-old facility as a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center and expand outpatient clinic services.
A few months later, DiStasio reversed course and said the VA’s plan was not negotiable.
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Despite this, members of the Save the VA group flew to Washington, D.C., and presented their idea to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, where he said he had not made a decision on the VA’s reorganization plan for the Black Hills system.
That was almost one year ago, and the VA never answered the Save the VA’s request for consideration.
To recap: Without warning or any supporting evidence, the VA said it would close its Hot Springs facility for economic reasons; to cool the firestorm of opposition, the VA asked for alternative ideas; a group of Hot Springs residents spent countless hours studying possible alternative uses for the Battle Mountain Conservatory; the group presented its proposal in a good-faith response to the VA's request; the VA said forget we asked; the VA secretary reluctantly listened to the Save the VA group’s plan after members traveled to Washington at their own expense; a year later, the VA has not even given them the courtesy of a response; and now the VA has announced it would develop an environmental impact study as legally required before doing what it said it would do two years ago.
The VA owes the Save the VA committee an apology for wasting its time, wasting its money and wasting its good will.