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EDITORIAL: VA should end its silence

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to close most medical services at its Hot Springs VA facility and relocate services to Rapid City, Sturgis and private providers. Hot Springs fought back and in response to a challenge from the director of the VA Black Hills Health Care System to propose an alternative, the Save the VA committee proposed their own plan.

The group proposed using the Hot Springs facilities for a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment center and a work therapy program for veterans. They presented their proposal to the VA in Washington, D.C., in May 2012.

The only reply from the VA to the Hot Springs group’s counter-proposal has been that the Black Hills VA cannot negotiate on its plan.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told the Journal editorial board that he also has not heard from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

On Dec. 13, Sens. Thune and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., wrote to Shinseki calling on him to return the Hot Springs VA to full operation, citing the failed leadership and breach of good faith by the VA Black Hills Health Care System.

“We are growing impatient with the lack of attention the VA has given to this matter,” the delegation wrote. “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.”

Before the House voted to approve a VA appropriations bill, Noem was able to remove money for leasing medical facilities in Rapid City.

We view the interest and involvement of South Dakota’s congressional delegation in what happens to the Hot Springs VA to be a positive force to help achieve a solution that provides adequate medical treatment to area veterans.

Two years ago, the VA announced plans to pull out of Hot Springs and asked for alternative plans, which Save the VA provided. Hot Springs deserves an answer to its counter-proposal.

Two years of silence from the VA about the fate of the Hot Springs VA is a disservice to veterans and the community of Hot Springs.

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