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Local News by Kirsten Swanson last edited on Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Department of Veteran Affairs announced Tuesday night that the VA Black Hills Health Care System will initiate an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to look at proposed reconfiguration of services at the Hot Springs VA Facility.

Secretary Eric Shinseki met with South Dakota representatives Tuesday to announce that the VA would move forward with plans that could potentially close the Hot Springs VA.

South Dakota Representative Kristi Noem, along with US Senators Tim Johnson and John Thune met with Shinseki Tuesday.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, this proposal will determine how to “enhance the delivery of high quality, safe and accessible care closer to Veterans’ homes.” The Hot Springs VA facility is a part of the VA Black Hills Health Care System. The facility, serves veterans throughout Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The proposal, set out back in December 2011, would reconfigure the Hot Springs VA by closing the residential rehabilitation treatment program and moving it to a center in Rapid City. Veterans would not be able to receive in-patient care at the Hot Springs facility. The proposal, if approved, would establish a community-based outpatient clinic at the Hot Springs VA.

All three representatives issued statements Tuesday evening, saying they were disappointed in the actions of the VA.

“This is not the decision any of us wanted to see the Secretary make, nor was it the decision our veterans and the Hot Springs community deserved,” Representative Noem said.

Senator Thune said he was also disappointed with the Secretary's decision, after nearly two years of proposed changes and commentary from those opposing the shift in Hot Springs.

"Throughout this process, my first priority has been to ensure that the quality of service and care for our veterans would not be compromised in any way, yet today's announcement ignore the pleas of veterans and financial analysis of the Save the VA committee," Senator Thune said.

"While today's news is discouraging, this is a marathon, not a sprint," Senator Johnson said. "I encourage veterans and Hot Springs residents to fully engage in the EIS process. I will continue working to provide South Dakota's and our nation's veterans with quality, accessible heath care."

The public will have input during the EIS. It is scheduled to begin within the next few months.

See a timeline below of this proposal and controversy below (provided by Senator Thune’s office):

HotSprings VA Timeline:

January 4, 2012 the delegation sent a letter to the VA Secretary asking a series of questions about the VA’s plans. A response to this letter was received on March 8, 2012.

February 29, 2012, the delegation sent a letter to the VA Secretary requesting an extension of the comment period by no less than 30 days after the final Freedom of Information Act request had been answered and all answers to the questions raised in the January 4th letter were received. In response to the request for additional time to provide feedback regarding the proposals,the VA extended the period for input to April 30, 2012.

April 25, 2012, the delegation sent another letter to the VA Secretary asking for a 30-day extension since at that time, the VA had yet to produce a cost-benefit analysis for their proposal. On May 22, 2012 the delegation received a response from Secretary Shinseki extending the comment period through June 30.

June 12, 2012, the VA provided a cost-benefit analysis to the community. Unfortunately, after several meetings between the Black Hills VA and the Hot Springs “Save the VA Committee” over the summer, the delegation felt compelled to send another letter on October 2 to Secretary Shinseki expressing disappointment in how the negotiations had progressed, and asking that the Secretary meet with interested parties in Hot Springs. This letter was also signed by members of the Wyoming and Nebraska delegations. While Secretary Shinseki denied this request in a letter on October 2, 2012, he agreed to meet with stakeholders on January 28, 2013.

May 6, 2013, Congressional staff and the Save the VA Committee met with VA Central Office staff to discuss discrepancies in VA data.

May 17, 2013, the delegation sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki regarding outstanding concerns left unanswered at the May 6th meeting, including what seems to be a systematic dismantling of the Hot Springs campus, the VA not factoring in an estimated 3,000 tribal veterans in its proposal, and inflated cost estimates for keeping the current VA presence in Hot Springs. This letter was also signed by members of the Wyoming and Nebraska delegations.

December 13, 2013, the delegation sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki calling for him to return Hot Springs’ BHHCS to full operation following the lack of leadership and breach of good faith by the VA over the past two years.

January 7, 2014, Secretary Shinseki announced that the VA will move forward with its proposal, initiating an environmental impact statement phase,regardless of outstanding concerns from stakeholders.

Retrieved from http://www.newscenter1.tv/stories/14957.aspx on January 8, 2014.

News Topic(s): VA Health