Hot Springs VA Supporters Deliver Counterproposal

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For months, a coalition of community groups has been trying to put a halt to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ plans to shut down a small town’s VA facility and replace it in Rapid City, S.D.

The group, which calls itself “The Veterans Town,” says the plan would virtually shut down the town of Hot Springs and shut off care for thousands of veterans. The coalition, which includes members of the American Federation of Government Employees and other veteran service organizations such as Black Hills Veterans March, delivered a counterproposal to the VA on June 30.

“It is clear the members of the committee put their hearts and souls into this counterproposal,” House Representative Kristi Noem said. “I look forward to learning how it is received by the VA.”

In addition to having the Hot Springs VA facility stay put, the Save the VA committee also emphasized the importance of expanding the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder currently at the facility. The original VA plan consists of removing most of the current health-care services in Hot Springs, while constructing a new PTSD center in Rapid City. Members of Veterans Town, however, do not agree that this particular method will solve any of the things ailing the operations of the VA in the region.

“The VA facility at Hot Springs already has a high reputation for treatment of PTSD and other similar illnesses,” said Patrick Russell, president of AFGE Local 1539 and supporter of Veterans Town. “We hope that we can partner with the VA and use that reputation to become a model to other VA facilities in rural areas.”

Also included in the campaign’s plan is the creation of a company, “Veterans Industries,” that would make a product line for production and sale. Profits would be split between treatment costs at the VA health care centers and Hot Springs community development projects.

The chances of success for the campaign have already increased following the presentation of their counterproposal. Steve DiStasio, the director of the VA Black Hills Health Care System, has opened the door for discussions of alternative plans in the near future, and anticipates meeting in Rapid City within the next two weeks with members of the Save the VA campaign, as well as the VA and congressional staffers from South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming.

“We’d like to take everything from our plan and put that on the table, take their plan and put them on the table and consider some other ideas, so that everybody sees everything,” DiStasio said.

DiStasio then wants to turn the final proposal into a recommendation to be sent to officials in the national VA offices in Washington, D.C.

To learn more about Save the VA and get updates on the campaign, visit www.theveteranstown.com and www.twitter.com/afgenational.

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