HOT SPRINGS – Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie visited the Hot Springs VA Medical Center Monday and gave supporters of the 113-year old complex hope that it will not be closed.
The Black Hills VA Health Care System released a plan 9 years ago aimed at closing the Hot Springs Center and it was identified for closure in 2017, but Secretary Wilkie said he’s taking another look at the decision and now thinks “it’s vital that we maintain this place.”
Wilkie was invited a week ago to visit Hot Springs by South Dakota’s Congressional delegation – Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds and Congressman Dusty Johnson – and they accompanied him Monday along with Governor Kristi Noem.
Wilkie said while touring the Hot Springs campus he was given some “great ideas” that will “continue the legacy that began in this space at the very beginning of the 20th century.”
Although the secretary didn’t absolutely promise the Hot Springs VA will stay open, the congressional delegation was encouraged and optimistic.
Thune and Rounds both think Wilkie should reconsider and rescind the 2017 realignment plan, then start over and give more serious consideration to an alternative plan offered at that time by Hot Springs supporters that puts the focus of the center on treating PTSD and other mental health issues.
The VA has a proposed an agency budget of $243.3-billion dollars for the next fiscal year, a 10.2% increase from this year and the highest in history.
Wilkie said the area that would get the biggest increase is mental health, which would grow to about $10.5-billion. He called mental health the last frontier for medicine and an issue that hasn’t been talked about enough at the national level.
Governor Noem, who strongly supported the Hot Springs VA through 4 terms in Congress before being elected governor 2 years ago, said the budget increase fits exactly with the vision she and others have for the Hot Springs VA – investing in PTSD treatment and mental health care for veterans.
Noem and Rounds used the visit to continue their long praise for the job done by the Hot Springs VA. Rounds, a former South Dakota governor, said the center is to veterans’ health care in rural parts of not only the South Dakota Black Hills but also Nebraska and Wyoming.
Noem said the Hot Springs community was joined by national organizations in rallying to save the center because it “serves veterans who have no other alternatives,” including those in the state’s tribal nations – adding that it’s “unlike any in the rest of the country for taking care of Native Americans and incorporating their culture into the healing process.”