South Dakota’s congressional delegation and Gov Kristi Noem are pledging to oppose a VA downsizing plan leaked last week that recommends closing its Hot Springs and Fort Meade hospitals.
The VA Mission Act, passed by Congress in 2018, called for the VA to review its assets and infrastructure, including recommending some facilities for closure.
Current Secretary Denis McDonough announced in January that a list of recommendations would be released in mid-March, now set for the 14th, with a full and final list expected to go to the President next January.
The VA announced plans in 2011 to close the Hot Springs hospital and replace it with a local outpatient clinic and a larger facility in Rapid City. The revised plan was finally killed by then-VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in late 2020 after a visit to Hot Springs.
South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds says he warned in voting against the 2018 bill that it was bad policy and that it’s gotten no better with age, with provisions for a process similar to the one used earlier to decide which military bases to close.
Rounds says the leaked recommendations show it will negatively impact much of rural South Dakota and renege on the promise to veterans they could continue to receive care in the community.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is vowing “to defend South Dakota veterans against President Biden and the Dept of Veterans Affairs” who are betraying “the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation and our freedoms.”
Senator John Thune says he voted for the 2018 bill to modernize VA healthcare and expand options for veterans, but the new plan “will only limit those options and shortchange our veterans.”
He calls it “a massive mistake” and says he will work through the new commission to prove Hot Springs and Fort Meade should not be closed or reduced.
The VA announced plans last near for a new 49,000 square foot Rapid City outpatient clinic and says the goal is still to have it operational and accepting patients early next year.