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Thune: SD veterans wait longest for mental health treatment

South Dakota military veterans have the longest waits in the Great Plains region for mental health appointments. At this Hot Springs facility, waits average 41 days. (Dave Larson for The Republic)

In the era of post-traumatic stress disorder, high suicide rates and brain injuries resulting from combat, military veterans in South Dakota wait the longest in the Great Plains region for a mental health appointment, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Wednesday.

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"It was disclosed that the average wait time for a mental health appointment is 47 days in Sioux Falls and 41 days in the Black Hills," Thune said. "That is among the longest wait times in the entire network."

South Dakota has three VA health care facilities, in Sioux Falls, Sturgis and Hot Springs.

Thune referred to a nationwide audit released last week by the VA. That audit showed that about 57,000 veterans nationwide and 114 in South Dakota had waited more than 90 days for a medical appointment. Thune said he believes the mental health waits are equally significant.

"This underscores the need for the Senate to consider bipartisan VA reform legislation. We need to make sure we demand accountability at the VA and hold officials accountable for any mismanagement," he said. "The takeaway from (the audit) is that the failures at the VA are really a national embarrassment and are a betrayal of the compact we have with our veterans."

Thune praised a VA reform bill that passed in the U.S. House on a 426-0 vote, and he said he looks forward to the bill coming before the Senate by early next week. He said his office will continue to monitor follow-up actions after the audit.

"Congress has an obligation to make sure something like this never happens again."