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VA to do study on closing Hot Springs facility

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RAPID CITY (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking another step toward closing the VA campus in Hot Springs, a decision that has upset members of South Dakota's congressional delegation.

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told them Tuesday that the VA is moving forward with an environmental impact study on closing the century-old historic Hot Springs facility — a medical treatment and rehabilitation center with inpatient and nursing home units — and rebuilding in Rapid City.

"I am deeply disappointed that the VA is now looking to move forward on a plan that many South Dakota veterans are adamantly opposed to and that could jeopardize the care those who have fought for our country need and deserve," Noem said in a statement.

The VA says an economic analysis has shown that restructuring its facilities in western South Dakota would be cheaper and more efficient than trying to fix the aging facilities in Hot Springs. The environmental impact study is required by law to look at the plan's environmental, social and economic effects.

South Dakota lawmakers and a group formed to support the Hot Springs facility question the economic analysis and say the VA is going against the wishes of military veterans who want a facility in Hot Springs.

"(The) announcement ignores the pleas of veterans and financial analysis of the Save the VA committee," Thune said in a statement.

The Hot Springs site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation last November said the plan to close it was an example of Veterans Affairs ignoring federal law regarding historic buildings and wasting taxpayer money by erecting new facilities instead of fixing up the old ones. The VA said it must balance its main mission of providing modern facilities for veterans with its responsibility to preserve historic places.

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