VA Secretary shuns SD delegationJohnson, Thune, Noem slam Shinseki’s handling of proposed closure for facility in Hot Springs.
By: Staff reports, The Daily Republic
WASHINGTON — The South Dakota congressional delegation came together to express its disappointment with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki over the future of the VA Medical Center in Hot Springs.
U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, and John Thune, a Republican, and Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican, announced Wednesday they received a response from Shinseki regarding the VA Black Hills Health Care System’s proposal to shutter VA facilities in Hot Springs.
In October, the delegation and members of Congress from Wyoming and Nebraska requested a meeting with Shinseki and members of the Save the VA Committee in Hot Springs to help determine the best way to ensure area veterans have continued access to high-quality health care.
In his response, Shinseki deferred on offering to schedule a meeting in South Dakota, but invited members of the Save the VA Committee to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with an undersecretary.
“I am disappointed Secretary Shinseki has denied our request to meet with the delegation and members of the Save the VA group,” Johnson said in a joint statement issued by the delegation.
“The situation warrants more than a meeting with Under Secretary Petzel,” he said.
“I’ll continue working with Secretary Shinseki to ensure the views of affected veterans, area communities, and VA employees are heard.”
“I am extremely disappointed by Secretary Shinseki’s response to our letter,” Thune said. “We asked for the secretary to meet with us in Hot Springs because we believe he is the only senior official at the VA who can negotiate in good faith on this matter, and because we believe he should visit Hot Springs to see for himself the importance of this facility to our veterans and the passion of the Hot Springs community for our veterans.”
He said meeting with an undersecretary of the VA is “a non-starter.”
“I hope that the secretary will reconsider his offer,” Thune said.
“The secretary’s response is not good enough,” said Noem. “I renew my request for him to travel to South Dakota to meet with the veterans, the community and members of Congress to discuss the best way forward.”
On Dec. 12, 2011, the VA announced a proposal to shutter the VA Medical Center in Hot Springs.
On Oct. 24, the South Dakota delegation reiterated its request for a meeting in South Dakota and formally opposing the VA’s proposal.