- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s two U.S. senators have taken steps to prevent the closure of Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the western part of the state.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has already selected a company to study its plan to realign the facilities in the Black Hills, but U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune recently proposed legislation that would pause the federal agency’s proposed changes, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1oWBHkp ) reported Thursday.

The VA has served veterans in Hot Springs for more than a century but now wants to move some services to Rapid City. The Hot Springs VA hospital that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places would be shuttered, and an outpatient clinic would be opened.

Johnson, a Democrat, said he has added language to a funding bill that would prohibit the use of money from the fiscal year that starts in October to close VA hospitals, conduct environmental assessments and “diminish health care services at existing Veterans Health Administration medical facilities.”

The VA chose Labat Environmental of Bellevue, Nebraska, to study the potential environmental, cultural, historic, social and economic effects of the proposed changes. It could take up to 1 1/2 years to complete the analysis.

Meanwhile, Thune said he introduced legislation that would block the VA from closing medical facilities or conducting studies regarding potential closures until the agency’s inspector general reports to Congress on the alleged delays that veterans have experienced in getting health care, an issue that has become a national scandal.

The agency is facing a growing crisis over allegations of treatment delays and falsified reports at its medical facilities. The inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department says 26 VA facilities are being investigated nationwide.

Thune wrote a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki expressing concern over the allegations and requesting information on the proposed changes in the Black Hills.

“Please provide a detailed analysis of how the closing of the Hot Springs VA facility would impact wait times in that catchment area,” Thune said.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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