An amendment to the U.S. House version of the fiscal year 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MCVA) appropriations bill will make it difficult for Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to proceed with a proposal to close the VA facility in Hot Springs.

The amendment, offered by South Dakota Representative Kristi Noem, would prohibit the VA from using FY2015 MCVA funds to “conduct an EIS (Environmental Impact State-ment) on facilities that have been designated as National Historic Landmarks,” according to testimony that Noem made in support of the amendment.

The news came less than 24 hours after the Save the VA group held the first meeting, to encourage property owners to begin working on individual EIS submissions.

“Save the VA and the community of Hot Springs should continue to gather data, materials and statements (for and EIS),” said Noem via telephone interview on Friday. “This amendment is not a cure-all but it was intended to show Secretary Shinseki that we are going to fight. The amendment effectively blocks the VA from proceeding with plans to close the Hot Springs VA.”

Noem concedes that the VA could conduct an EIS - a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act - through other means.

“The Secretary could divert funds from FY2014, or could get funding from an outside agency to do the EIS,” she said. “I just want to make it difficult for him to proceed down the path toward closing Hot Springs.”

She added that the language in the amendment is very specific and applies to Hot Springs alone.

“We cannot legislate on this type of bill,” Noem said, “so we have to use existing language. It is pretty specific.”

Save the VA expressed its thanks for the amendment in a press release sent Friday morning.

“This...demonstrates to the VA the level of continued Congressional support for the Hot Springs VA to remain open and serving rural veterans. We’re optimistic the Senate will follow the House in passing this legislation.

“Our hope has always been and we ask Secretary Shinseki once again to listen to reason and stop the proposed relocation of the Domiciliary to Rapid City, proposed closure of the hospital in Hot Springs, finally recognize that veterans want this facility to remain open and that following through with this proposed action would be counterproductive to the VA’s mission.”

Save the VA joined Noem in encouraging veterans, local residents, business owners and others to prepare statements of how the potential closure of the 100-plus year old treatment center would affect them.

The full text of both Representative Noem’s and the Save the VA press releases may be read at www.hotspringsstar.com.

“Tell them to keep fighting there,” Noem said, “and let people know that I am continuing to fight in Washington.”

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