VA Secretary Visits Hot Springs

Nov 30, 2016

Don Ackerman and others with Save the VA stand outside the Mueller Center in Hot Springs
Credit Lee Strubinger / SDPB

United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald says he has yet to make a decision whether to close the VA facility in Hot Springs. McDonald took a tour of the hospital Wednesday morning.

McDonald’s visit comes after an Environmental Impact Statement says the VA prefers to close a major part of the facility and move many services to Rapid City.

For over five years Veterans Affairs has been talking about closing the VA facility in Hot Springs.

The hospital is known in part for its Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment program.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald says he came to Hot Springs to get a first-hand look at the facility and to talk with local veterans.

“The veterans who have served and how this facility has served them," McDonald says. "Or listen to the comments that you hear in the town hall meetings. Words on paper are different than feeling all of that. And that’s why I wanted to be here to feel it. We’re worried about getting them the best technical medical care they can get, but we also know that the way they feel coming away from that experience is very important.”

McDonald says he’s going to look over the data he collected during his visit before making a final decision on the proposed move.

But critics say McDonald and the VA have already made up their mind. Don Ackerman is with the Save the VA committee in Hot Springs.

“The tour this morning was orchestrated to the point where he could not see anything," Ackerman says. "They took him exactly where they wanted him to see stuff. They didn’t let him see all the important things that were there. Nor did he really talk to anybody, he didn’t have time for the people. What do I think of his visit? I think he checked the block. I think it is his intent is to close the place. He can say whatever he wants, but I believe that is his intent.”

A document released almost a month ago by the VA, shows the Black Hills Healthcare system hopes to construct a multi-specialty outpatient clinic and 100 bed residential rehabilitation treatment program in Rapid City.

McDonald is the Secretary of the VA at least until January 20 when the new Presidential Administration takes over.   He says he wants to make a decision as quickly as possible.

To hear U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonald's full press conference after the Town Hall, click play below.