Dec 16 2012
By Kevin Woster
A year after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a proposal to restructure its health care system in the Black Hills, a controversial plan that included closing most facilities in Hot Springs, the next step remains unclear.
So does the time frame for taking it.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has the proposal, along with counter proposals by Save the VA Committee and recommendations from the staff of the VA Black Hills Health Care System, including director Steve DiStasio.
Shinseki also has requests for a meeting with the Save the VA Committee of Hot Springs. And he has an early October letter from the South Dakota congressional delegation and congressional members from Wyoming and Nebraska expressing frustration over the process and requesting a meeting in Hot Springs.
South Dakota's two Republican members of Congress are tired of waiting for a reply.
"I'm frustrated. And don't know where we're at," Rep. Kristi Noem said, noting that Wednesday marked a full year since the proposal was made. "I talked to one of the assistant secretaries at the VA and asked for a phone call with the secretary. And she said that wasn't going to happen."
Noem said she also asked for a date when Shinseki could meet to discuss the issue.
"She said she'd let me know," Noem said. "She said the secretary has looked at the proposal from the community. She said he obviously still has his proposal, and she gave no other indications on actions going forward."
That's not good enough for Noem and Sen. John Thune, who have been consistently critical of the VA proposal and the failure of VA officials to modify it based on recommendations from local officials and veterans.
"It has been just over a year since the VA proposed changes to the Black Hills Health Care System, and we have made it clear that we opposed those changes and would like to see the VA negotiate in good faith with the Hot Springs community about a way forward," Thune said. "I am incredibly frustrated at the lack of response to our October letter requesting a meeting in Hot Springs to discuss their proposed changes."
Sen. Tim Johnson, the Democratic member of South Dakota's three-member congressional delegation, didn't issue a comment about the one-year anniversary of the proposal, although he did join in signing the October letter seeking a meeting.
Perry Plumart, Johnson's communications director, said he didn't consider it unusual that the secretary of the VA was taking some time in responding to the delegation.
"We have a delegation request in. We look forward to working with the VA and the secretary to come to a resolution on what's best for Hot Springs and for the veterans," Plumart said.
DiStasio said he and other Black Hills staffers were also waiting for word from Washington, D.C.
"We know that something is coming forward from the secretary's office. We don't know when," DiStasio said. "We're all waiting for that decision."
Meanwhile the system continues to operate, "recruiting staff" and providing essential medical services to veterans, DiStasio said. And maintenance and rehabilitation work is in progress on grand porches and a currently-unused Victorian-era greenhouse on the grounds of the Hot Springs VA facility, he said.
"We're spending money to make sure we maintain the integrity of those structures," he said.
To read more: http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/future-of-black-hills-va-uncertain-a-year-after-controversial/article_70691016-4e8a-518d-b239-ca79f4b6e353.html