VA hospitals in Fort Meade, Hot Springs face possible closure

The "BRAC-style process" is expected to be examined over the next year

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Friday their plans to recommend a downsizing of certain facilities in South Dakota, including hospitals in Fort Meade and Hot Springs, drawing strong criticism from the state’s congressional delegation.

In 2018, Congress passed the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Act as part of the VA MISSION ACT. This allowed the VA to list recommendations for infrastructure enhancements across their medical facilities as a “multi-year nationwide review of VA health care infrastructure suggest they would be closing. ”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough announced in January the list of recommendations would be pushed to mid-March due to staffing shortages caused by the pandemic. A full and final list of recommendations are expected to go to the President’s desk by January 2023 with approval by March of that year.

David Shulkin replaced Robert McDonald in 2017 as head of Veterans Affairs and announced he was still reviewing the decision by the Obama Administration to close the facility. The reversal of closure came after Sec. Robert Wilkie visited the Hot Springs VA in late 2020.

“The concerns I warned against in 2018 when I voted against the VA MISSION Act have come to fruition,” said Sen. Mike Rounds. “Veterans were told they could receive care in the community, and that’s proven not to be the case. The VA MISSION Act also included provisions to include this BRAC-style process, which we learned today will negatively impact much of rural SD. The VA MISSION Act was bad public policy then and it’s gotten no better with age. While the provisions of this BRAC will not be released publicly until March 14th – the threat has become clear to our local veterans.”

This decision takes the community back to late 2016 when McDonald announced the department would close a large portion of the Hot Springs facility in favor of expanded facilities in Rapid City.

“The VA is wrong, period,” said Sen. John Thune. “This is a massive mistake, and I will do everything within my power to show the administration, by working with the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, why it would be in everyone’s best interest, especially South Dakota’s veterans’, to immediately change course.”

Nearly two years ago to the day, former VA Secretary Robert Wilkie came to the Hot Springs VA & announced the VA would remain open & there would be no reduction in services for veterans. In South Dakota, promises mean something.

— Rep. Dusty Johnson (@RepDustyJohnson) March 4, 2022

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem vowed “to defend South Dakota veterans against President Biden and the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

“The Biden Administration has betrayed the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our nation and our freedoms. [T]hey are defunding our veterans by recommending closures and downsizing of VA facilities across the country.

“When I voted to modernize VA healthcare in 2018, we had the goal of expanding healthcare options for our veterans. We wanted them to be able to choose the care that was best for them. The Biden Administration’s action will only limit those options and shortchange our veterans. It was not the intent of our vote, so I am promising to push back.”

In 2021, the VA announced a new outpatient clinic was to be built on the northwest corner of the intersection of Mt. Rushmore Road and Catron Boulevard. The clinic will address the specific needs and requirements for more than 7,000 veterans living in the area.

The roughly 49,000 square foot facility will include primary care, mental health, specialty care, women’s health, pharmacy care, audiology, laboratory services, and physical therapy.

The plan currently is to have the clinic operational and accepting patients in early 2023.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News