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EDITORIAL: Veterans deserve our best care
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EDITORIAL: Veterans deserve our best care

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In all our nation’s wars, more than 1.3 million men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country. It is these honored dead whom we recognize on Memorial Day.

Each of us who enjoy today’s holiday can honor their sacrifice by attending one of the Memorial Day ceremonies in this area or taking a moment to reflect on the dedication to service and devotion to country of our nation’s military servicemen and women – alive and dead – and remember that our freedoms come at a very high price. We are free today because many of our countrymen fought to protect our freedoms, and some people died to preserve our liberty.

Memorial Day 2014 comes at a time when news reports tell us that some of our veterans have not received the best care that we promised them when they signed up to serve in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general’s office reports that 26 VA hospitals nationwide are being investigated for delaying treatments that might have contributed to veterans’ deaths. The hospitals allegedly maintained secret lists of patients in order to hide treatment delays.

So far, the scandal hasn’t affected Black Hills VA Healthcare System, although Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has cited the VA’s problems as reason to postpone the proposed realignment of the Black Hills VA that would transfer most of its veterans’ care facilities to Rapid City from Hot Springs.

The VA has begun the environmental impact statement process that is required before it can reconfigure its health care treatment facilities in the Black Hills. The analysis will take 10 to 18 months. If approved, the reconfiguration would “transition of the existing Hot Springs VA hospital into a community-based outpatient clinic” with residential rehabilitation treatment transferred to Rapid City, where a new community-based outpatient clinic would be opened.

The VA said in a release that the EIS process would allow public participation in scheduled hearings and comment and would consider “reasonable alternatives.”

We note that the Black Hills VA has already asked for reasonable alternatives, which the Save the VA group in Hot Springs presented to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at his office in Washington more than one year ago. Save the VA has not heard a response from Shinseki, and the VA’s decision to continue with its realignment plans indicates that “reasonable alternatives” are not being taken seriously.

Given the scandal involving dozens of VA hospitals in which treatment delays were hidden because VA employees’ performance reports were more important than veterans’ care, it is reasonable to ask if the Black Hills VA realignment is being undertaken for the convenience and comfort of VA employees despite assurances it will improve veterans’ care.

We thank our congressional delegation – Sens. Thune and Tim Johnson and Rep. Kristi Noem – for their efforts to hold the Black Hills VA accountable.

On this Memorial Day, we can best honor our nation’s war dead by ensuring that their comrades in arms – our living military service veterans -- receive the best care that our wealthy and free nation can provide.

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