U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today introduced an amendment (S.Amdt. 2782) to the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 (S. 1982) requiring that prior to the closure of any Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) must certify the changes to veteran care and budget savings resulting from the closure would exceed the resulting impacts to veteran care within the catchment area.
“Without a doubt, our veterans must come first,” said Thune. “Congress has a responsibility to make certain that any significant changes to the VA, such as the proposed changes to our VA campus in Hot Springs, benefit our veterans and don’t restrict access to the highest quality care for the men and women we are trying to serve.”
As part of the GAO’s cost-benefit analysis, Thune’s amendment would require the GAO report on the impacts a VA closure would have on quality of veteran care, veteran access to specialized health care services, Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Programs and other inpatient care, travel distances to inpatient and outpatient care, and tribal veterans.Thune’s amendment follows more than two years of back-and-forth between the VA and the Black Hills Health Care System (BHHCS) regarding the future of the Hot Springs campus. In December of 2011, the Obama administration released a proposal to reconfigure the BHHCS which included closing the facility in Hot Springs. The VA originally introduced their proposal without providing any cost-benefit analysis to support the changes it is seeking. When the VA finally released a cost-benefit analysis, there were many discrepancies in their analysis that have remained unanswered despite continuous deliberation between the VA and stakeholders. Thune met with VA Secretary Shinseki and South Dakota Governor Daugaard in early 2013 to discuss these discrepancies, and has continued to press for answers with follow-up correspondence from the South Dakota delegation. In January of 2014, Secretary Shinseki announced the VA would move forward with an environmental impact statement on closing the Hot Springs facility.