South Dakota delegation continues push to reverse decision to close Hot Springs VA facility

U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), who have fought to protect veterans through opposing the relocation of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Hot Springs, said on Thursday the VA was continuing to review an earlier decision to close the facility.

Former VA Secretary Robert McDonald told members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation in December that the Obama administration had elected to close large portions of the Hot Springs VA facility despite protests from local veterans, VA staff and community stakeholders.

VA Secretary David Shulkin notified Thune, Rounds and Noem during a meeting on Thursday that he would review the previous administration’s decision. In the meantime, the residential rehabilitation treatment program will continue at the Hot Springs VA facility while expansion plans for the VA facility in Rapid City move forward.

“I support Secretary Shulkin’s goal of focusing on quality of care for veterans during this new evaluation,” Rounds said. “While the Hot Springs campus is no longer an immediate target, it is still in a larger pool of all VA facilities which could be reconfigured. But the decision will now be driven by quality of care, and the Hot Springs campus is one of only 17 VA facilities across the nation to receive a five-star rating for care.”

The Hot Springs facility is part of the Black Hills Health Care System, which provides health care to 19,000 veterans over 100,000 square miles in western South Dakota, southern North Dakota, northwestern Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.

Thune, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said although Shulkin did not reverse his predecessor’s decision to realign services within the VA’s Black Hills Health Care System, “he demonstrated a sincere interest in looking at how to best provide the quality care our selfless veterans have earned through their service and sacrifice.”

Noem said veterans’ needs must drive any decision about Hot Springs. “From the first town hall I held in Hot Springs days after the VA first announced it would close the hospital, to the U.S. House VA Committee hearing held on site at my request, to the hundreds of one-on-one discussions, veterans have consistently stressed that Hot Springs is the Veterans’ Town and we’d like to keep it that way. I am grateful to Secretary Shulkin for giving us the opportunity to share what makes this facility so indispensable, but I strongly urge him to visit the campus before additional decisions are made.”

The Hot Springs campus provides primary and urgent care, outpatient and inpatient procedures and a call center. The medical center also includes long-term care facilities and a residential rehabilitation treatment program that serves homeless veterans and provides mental health services for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and other conditions.

“I look forward to working with the secretary to ensure veteran care and safety are prioritized and encourage him to visit the Hot Springs campus before making further decisions,” Thune added.