U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) today announced they received a long-awaited response from Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki regarding the VA Black Hills Health Care System's proposal to shutter VA facilities in Hot Springs. In October, the delegation and Members of Congress from Wyoming and Nebraska requested a meeting with Secretary Shinseki and members of the Save the VA Committee in Hot Springs to help determine the best way to ensure area veterans have continued access to high-quality health care. In his response, Secretary Shinseki deferred on offering to schedule a meeting in South Dakota, but invited members of the Save the VA Committee to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with an Under Secretary.
"I am disappointed Secretary Shinseki has denied our request to meet with the delegation and members of the Save the VA group. The situation warrants more than a meeting with Under Secretary Petzel. I'll continue working with Secretary Shinseki to ensure the views of affected veterans, area communities, and VA employees are heard," said Johnson.
"I am extremely disappointed by Secretary Shinseki's response to our letter," said Thune. "We asked for the Secretary to meet with us in Hot Springs because we believe he is the only senior official at the VA who can negotiate in good faith on this matter, and because we believe he should visit Hot Springs to see for himself the importance of this facility to our veterans and the passion of the Hot Springs community for our veterans. The offer of meeting with an Under Secretary of the VA is a non-starter as meetings with lower level individuals have resulted in wasted time, energy, and misunderstandings that can only be avoided by dealing directly with the Secretary who will ultimately decide the outcome of the Hot Springs facility. I hope that the Secretary will reconsider his offer."
"The Secretary's response is not good enough," said Noem. "Eight members of Congress requested that the Secretary come to Hot Springs to meet with our veterans and the community. Deferring a meeting to his Under Secretary in Washington, D.C. is not a productive use of anyone's time. I am disappointed that the Secretary is clearly not interested in taking a leadership role to help find a solution for our veterans. I renew my request for him to travel to South Dakota to meet with the veterans, the community and Members of Congress to discuss the best way forward."
On December 12, 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a proposal to shutter the Medical Center in Hot Springs. The community immediately came together in a united effort to save the facility. The community submitted a counterproposal and the delegation has worked hard to ensure the VA gives it serious consideration. After negotiations between the VA and the community broke down in September, South Dakota's delegation and Members of Congress from Wyoming and Nebraska sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki expressing concerns and requesting a meeting in Hot Springs. On October 24th the South Dakota delegation followed-up with the Secretary, reiterating its request for a meeting in South Dakota and formally opposing the VA's proposal.
The Secretary's responses to the delegation's October 2nd and October 24th letters are attached.