(SD)-VA Sec Puts Hot Springs Closure On Hold
HOT SPRINGS - The Department of Veterans Affairs is putting off its decision to close its medical center in Hot Springs as part of a reconfiguration of the VA Black Hills Health Care System
VA Secretary David Shulkin notified Governor Dennis Daugaard and South Dakota's 3-member Congressional delegation yesterday that he was putting the play "on stay" while the VA re-evaluates all of its facilities nationwide.
The stay doesn't guarantee the Hot Springs Center won't be closed in the future. Shulkin told a U-S House committee on Wednesday that the VA is looking to close more than 1,100 facilities nationwide and have more veterans receive medical care in the private sector.
The total includes some 430 vacant buildings and 735 that are "underutilized" and costing the federal government $25 million a year. Shulkin said the VA would work with Congress to prioritize buildings for closure, possibly through a version of the Base Realignment and Closure process the Pentagon has used to decide which bases to close.
The stay does not affect two parts of the Black Hills VA reorganization plan - expanding the Rapid City Community-based Outpatient Clinic and opening a Members Services National Call Center in a remodeled portion of the Hot Springs campus. - with both moving forward as planned.
Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune and Congresswoman Kristi Noem issued a joint release praising Shulkin's moves, saying they allow veterans to continue to receive the high-quality care they've always received at Hot Springs, delivered with a holistic approach. They also say they appreciate Shulkin's willingness to meet with them and keep lines of communication open.
Thune says that although the secretary didn't reverse the December decision by his predecessor, Robert McDonald, to close Hot Springs as part of the reorganization, Shulkin did demonstrate "a sincere interest in looking at how to best provide the quality care our selfless veterans have earned through their service and sacrifice."
Senator Rounds, who strongly supported the Hot Springs VA during earlier closure threats while he was governor, says in a separate news release that he's pleased to see the call center and its 140 jobs move forward to handle questions and problems from veterans around the country.
Rounds is also pleased that Secretary Shulkin told the delegation he could not understand why they could look at Hot Springs - which has proven to be a five-star facility - and plan to close it without looking at other VA facilities around the country that were not providing near the quality of service.
Following is the VA's statement on the Hot Springs campus:
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin, M.D., announced today that he has deferred the decision to reconfigure the VA Black Hills Health Care System in South Dakota, including the Hot Springs campus.
The Department is undertaking a system-wide look at how to ensure Veterans are receiving the best care, where and when they need it. As we design and implement an integrated healthcare system, ensuring Veterans receive the best of VA and the best of the community, the Black Hills Healthcare System (HCS) will be part of the review of that design.
This will allow Veterans to continue to receive high quality care that they have been receiving to date at Hot Springs, delivered with a holistic approach. This decision also will include allowing Veterans a choice of where they receive their health care.
The current Veterans Choice Program will expire in December and we are working with Congress to pass the needed legislation to modernize how Veterans receive their care. In the meantime, we are moving forward with expanding the Rapid City Community-based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and activation of the Members Services National Call Center, as planned.
At this time, implementation of the changes to the Hot Springs campus is deferred while the Department continues to develop plans for the next iteration of the Veterans Choice Program. This decision forms part of VA's modernization.
He met with Senator John Thune, Senator Mike Rounds, and Congresswoman Kristi Noem, and had a call with Governor Dennis Daugaard, to inform them of his decision.
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