By Rep. Kristi Noem
For over a century, the VA facility in Hot Springs has served our veterans. It is an historic facility that has a reputation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse treatment. Aside from the critical care it provides to the brave men and women who answered the call to serve, it also supports an entire community. But last December, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) turned the community upside down by proposing to essentially shutter operations at the facility.
The response by the veterans and members of the community has been inspiring. They banded together and demanded answers from the VA, but unfortunately, the VA’s response has been lacking. From failing to initially provide a cost-benefit analysis to its most recent claim that it could not negotiate on the final proposal, the VA has been giving the Hot Springs community the runaround. Folks involved with the Save the VA Committee invested countless hours in crafting a counterproposal that they had been assured would be given serious consideration. Unfortunately, it appears the VA has gone back on its word.
The actions by the VA have deeply damaged its relationship with the Hot Springs community and has caused many to lose trust in its word. Like all South Dakotans, I want what’s best for our veterans, and I believe that the proposal coming out of the community that serves so many of them deserves a proper hearing. That’s why I sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki requesting a meeting in Hot Springs. Senators Johnson and Thune, as well as representatives from Nebraska and Wyoming, joined me in this request and we hope to hear back from the Secretary soon with proposed times and dates. It is critically important that the Secretary hear the concerns of the larger community firsthand, just as I have, when considering what action to take.
I have visited Hot Springs twice this year to meet with the veterans and members of the community on this issue. Each time, I have been awed by their passion for the VA facility and the veterans it serves. This facility represents more than great veterans care and the heart of a rural economy, it represents a community identity that is as strong as it is proud.
The Hot Springs community represents the tenacity and commitment that defines so many South Dakotans, and I will not stop fighting to make sure Secretary Shinseki and the VA give this community, its counterproposal and our veterans the fair shake it deserves.
Rep. Kristi Noem is South Dakota’s lone U.S. Representative, elected in November 2010. She serves on the Agriculture, Education and Workforce and Natural Resources Committees.