Senator John Thune
In December of 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced its intention to reconfigure the VA Black Hills Health Care System services located in Hot Springs, Fort Meade, and Rapid City. The proposal sparked great concern throughout Hot Springs and the surrounding communities about how the VA changes would affect the quality and availability of health care for thousands of area veterans who rely on these facilities. These veterans, many of whom already face financial and transportation-related challenges, would be forced to travel an additional 1.5 hours for care at a VA hospital. In Pine Ridge for example, veterans worry that without access to the Hot Springs VA they will have to rely on the already overburdened Indian Health Service or face significant travel burdens to try to meet their health care needs.
I understand the obstacles that closing this facility pose to providing our veterans with the highest quality health care, and since the proposal was announced I have remained adamant that the voices of our veterans and the Hot Springs community must be a part of any changes.
After months of requests, phone calls, and letters, I, along with Senator Johnson, Representative Noem, Governor Daugaard, and representatives from Save the VA committee, met with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on January 28, 2013. The meeting, originally scheduled for 45 minutes, lasted about an hour and a half, giving the Save the VA representatives the opportunity to thoroughly present their case to the Secretary.
Their presentation was well-delivered and their passion for helping veterans and their community was clear. In fact, Senator Johanns of Nebraska, who was also in attendance, noted how strongly the community of Hot Springs supports the VA hospital. The Save the VA representatives asked the Secretary to consider the points they raised, and while they asked that he withdraw the original proposal, they made it clear that they are willing to negotiate with the Secretary on their counterproposal.I appreciate Secretary Shinseki taking the time to attend this meeting and the attention he gave to the presentation. While the timeline for a decision remains unclear, I remain committed to ensuring that the VA will continue to meet the important health care needs of area veterans.