(WASHINGTON) – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today expressed grave concern over the Department of Veterans Affairs Black Hills Health Care System’s (BHHCS) refusal to collaborate with veterans groups and other stakeholders as it moves forward with its plan to close the historic VA medical facility in Hot Springs, S.D. On Sept. 10, 2012 negotiations with the Save the VA Committee on the future of the facility deteriorated as the VA decided to move forward with the closure, prompting members of Congress to demand a meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The Save the VA Committee, a community-based group fighting to keep the hospital open, has led the charge in enhancing the services of the hospital rather than closing its doors to veterans.
AFGE has supported the Save the VA Committee’s efforts to provide the VA with an alternate proposal to keep the facility open to serve veterans in South Dakota and portions of Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. For 10 months the committee has gathered the input of VA employees, veterans, community members and other stakeholders to develop an alternative solution to closing the doors of the Hot Spring VA Medical Center. With the support of the congressional delegation it was believed that the BHHCS would work with the committee to implement a plan that would best serve our nation’s veterans.
“It seems as though the agency has been stringing along the committee and the Hot Springs community just to keep up appearances,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox. “It is completely unacceptable that the VA has been unwilling to make any compromises with the community group as to the future of this facility, which has served veterans for more than a century.”
The congressional delegation led by Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.), John Thune (S.D.) and Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.), has collaborated with the committee and, sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki on Oct. 2, 2012 requesting to meet with him over the agency’s decision. In its letter the delegation expressed “frustration and disappointment” over the BHHCS’s failure to ensure the transparency and openness of this process.
“Veterans have praised the care they’ve received at the Hot Springs VA facility and gave meaningful input into the committee’s proposal to enhance the services delivered at this location. The idea of closing it down and ignoring the voices of our heroes is disgraceful. We urge the VA to return to the table with the committee to develop viable solutions that will address veterans’ needs, instead of shutting down essential services at this historic facility,” said Cox.