(WASHINGTON)—The American Federation of Government Employees lauds the efforts of the Save the VA Committee in its fight to stave off the closure of the VA medical center in Hot Springs, S.D. The committee, a community-based group, organized more than a year ago to develop counterproposals to the Department of Veterans Affairs plan to close the facility. The committee’s work with congressional leaders resulted in a meeting on Capitol Hill with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last Monday.
“We are pleased to have AFGE Local 1539 President Patrick Russell representing the concerns of VA employees within the committee and before VA leadership. We’re hopeful this meeting has opened the eyes of Secretary Shinseki to the flawed thinking behind the agency’s proposal to close this historic facility,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “My grave concerns about VA medical center shutdowns and cutbacks in services that force veterans into ill-equipped community hospitals are well known to Secretary Shinseki and lawmakers. I am ready to sit down with Secretary Shinseki for a conversation about how AFGE, the largest representative of the VA health care workforce, and the Department can collaborate to find solutions to the vast, unmet medical and mental health needs of our veterans. Clearly, shutting down Hot Springs and other VA facilities is not one of those solutions.”
The committee has worked with a congressional delegation led by Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.), John Thune (S.D.) and Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.) in order to get its proposal considered by Department of Veterans Affairs Black Hills Health Care System’s (BHHCS) as a viable alternative to closing the Hot Springs VA Medical Center. After several months of unanswered requests, the delegation and the Save the VA Committee were notified that Secretary Shinseki would hear a presentation by the committee on its proposal.
“We’ve fought long and hard to develop a plan we believe will improve the services provided to veterans who come to the Hot Springs for care. To have the opportunity to present our proposal before congressional leaders and Secretary Shinseki is critical to keeping this VA medical center operating in our community,” said AFGE Local 1539 President Patrick Russell. “I think the meeting went very well and we’re patiently waiting for Secretary Shinseki’s response to our proposal.”
The Save the VA Committee’s proposal includes plans to provide job-training assistance to veterans, improve post-traumatic stress disorder treatment and keep the historical medical center open instead of farming the services out to other facilities.
“We’re hopeful this meeting has set a change in course from the VA’s previous exclusionary position,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “The committee has worked tirelessly to put forth a comprehensive plan to save the facility and has often struggled to get its position heard by VA leadership. Closing this historic facility, which has served our nation’s heroes for more than a century, is unnecessary and would be detrimental to the community of Hot Springs.”