Preserving the Veterans Town
By Rep. Kristi Noem
December 5, 2014
It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since our fight to save the Hot Springs VA Hospital began. On December 12, 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a reorganization proposal that included plans to close the doors of the VA hospital in Hot Springs – a community so dedicated to those who’ve served that it has earned the title “Veterans Town.”
The Hot Springs VA Hospital is a special place. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the community and facility numerous times. I’m always taken aback by how relaxing its surroundings are and the beauty of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium, a short-term home for veterans recovering from injuries or illness that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hospital employs hundreds in the Hot Springs community, many of whom are veterans themselves. And I’ve spoken to many of the nearly 31,000 veterans served by the hospitals in Hot Springs and Fort Meade – the vast majority of which have been very passionate about keeping the hospital open. Needless to say, it would be a shame to lose this facility.
Since the proposal was initially put forward, we’ve been asking for more information on the Native Americans who are served at the hospital, the land valuation in the VA’s cost-benefit analysis, and simple estimates for key provisions. The numbers have never added up nor have they been consistent with community stakeholder data.
In August, I held a Congressional Field Hearing with the Chairman of the House VA Committee where these same questions about data discrepancies and transparency arose. Once again, the answers we received from the VA were far from sufficient. The Hot Springs Hospital did, however, earn the respect and support of Chairman Miller at the hearing. He’s an important ally to have in Congress.
Despite the data discrepancies, the VA is pushing forward with an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), one of the last items needed to finalize their proposal. I helped the U.S. House of Representatives pass a provision earlier this year that would stop the VA from using any FY2015 funds to conduct an EIS on facilities like the Hot Springs hospital, but the provision has not yet been taken up by the Senate.
Two weeks ago, I spoke with VA Secretary Robert McDonald about next steps. He was aware of what’s been going on in the community and I requested that he come out to Hot Springs to see it for himself – an invitation I also made in writing shortly after he was confirmed as Secretary in July and again last week. It’s something we continue to work on.
This fight is far from over. Hot Springs has been providing critical care to South Dakota veterans for more than a century and I’m committed to doing all I can to ensure Hot Springs can serve veterans in this way for a century more.