Members of a delegation from Hot Springs fighting the closure of most VA medical facilities there were encouraged Monday by a 90-minute meeting with top U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials in Washington, D.C.

The meeting in the office of Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., included Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Gov. Dennis Daugaard and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and other top department officials.

Save the VA spokesman Rich Gross said Monday evening that critics of the VA proposal got a good hearing in front of Shinseki.

"We were encouraged by the fact that a meeting that was supposed to last 45 minutes stretched into an hour and a half," Gross said. "We were very encouraged by the attention Secretary Shinseki gave to our presentation."

The meeting began with a video from Bryan Brewer, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, expressing opposition to the proposed closure of most VA medical facilities in Hot Springs, including a treatment center for post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.

Brewer, who couldn't attend the meeting because of injuries suffered in a car accident, also was concerned about whether tribal veterans would get service from the Indian Health Service and how the proposed changes would affect them, Gross said.

Gross was joined at the meeting by four other members of the Save the VA Committee — Pat Russell, Bob Nelson, Amanda Campbell and Don Ackerman. Each made a presentation to Shinseki, describing counter proposals aimed at saving money, keeping the VA facility open and developing a national demonstration project to partner with the VA, provide innovative PTSD treatment and job-training assistance for veterans.

"We're tired but very optimistic," Gross said. "The secretary indicated that he would need to take everything we gave him into consideration and promised there would be due deliberation, and that we would probably be talking further."

Johnson, Thune, Noem and Daugaard issued a joint news release saying they were pleased with the meeting.

"I set up this meeting because I wanted to make sure the VA takes the Save the VA group's concerns and proposals into account when considering changes to the Black Hills Health Care System," Johnson said.

Thune said he was confident the meeting conveyed to Shinseki "the significant obstacles that closing this facility poses to providing these men and women with the highest-quality health care."

Noem said Shinseki had "indicated he had not made a decision but would like to make one sooner rather than later." Noem said she believed the presentation had an impact on Shinseki.

Daugaard said he was pleased that Shinseki "gave us more time than he had originally committed" and praised the Save the VA Committee members for their "strong, succinct presentation."

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