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Study backs up proposal for VA changes in SD

RAPID CITY (AP) -- A Department of Veterans Affairs plan to restructure its facilities in western South Dakota would be cheaper and more efficient than trying to fix aging VA facilities in Hot Springs, according to an economic analysis from the a...

RAPID CITY (AP) -- A Department of Veterans Affairs plan to restructure its facilities in western South Dakota would be cheaper and more efficient than trying to fix aging VA facilities in Hot Springs, according to an economic analysis from the agency.

The VA's plan to close its hospital in Hot Springs has met strong local opposition. The proposal unveiled last year also would add a clinic in Hot Springs and rebuild facilities in Rapid City. The study found that the plan would cost about $149 million, compared with $258 million for renovating the existing VA facilities in Hot Springs, according to the Rapid City Journal.

There also would be a workforce reduction.

"Over time we believe we should reduce our labor force from 1,080 to about 800," KOTA-TV quoted Steve DiStasio, director of VA Black Hills Health Care System, as saying Wednesday. He said the emphasis would be on natural attrition over five years, according to the Journal.

DiStasio said a final recommendation to VA leaders has not yet been made.

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"I want to have a dialogue with whomever is coming forth with alternative proposals," he said. "We might then reframe the proposal including these new ideas."

Hot Springs Mayor Don De Vries told the Rapid City Journal that he is not surprised the study backs up the VA's proposal. The Save the VA organization plants to release an alternative plan, he said.

"I feel like it's an open discussion yet," he said. "It could very well be productive. At least, that's what we're hoping."

Members of South Dakota's congressional delegation were among those who sought the financial study. U.S. Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson and Rep. Kristi Noem say they will continue to monitor the process.

Related Topics: VETERANS
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