One of the original branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium was established by Congress in 1902 and opened to patients in 1907. Although the National Historic Landmark provides essential medical services for veterans in the area, the Department of Veterans Affairs wants to shutter it and construct a new facility 60 miles away. Not only would this place the future of this remarkable campus at risk, it would severely impact the town of Hot Springs, where the medical center is the single largest employer.
The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, established in 1865, was the precursor to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Battle Mountain Sanitarium, its only branch designed solely as a medical facility, is one of more than 1,700 historic properties managed by the VA and one of only a few that retain enough integrity for National Historic Landmark designation. The VA is proving to be a poor steward of the prized sandstone buildings at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium and has already proven to be a poor steward at other VA historic sites across the country, deferring maintenance and disregarding the regulations that require compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.
- Prevent the closure of the Hot Springs VA Medical Center at Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
- Secure federal dollars for the rehabilitation of Battle Mountain Sanitarium, and make certain the sanitarium continues to serve as a VA facility.
Ways To Help
Written by Rhonda Sincavage, Associate Director for Government Relations and Policy
On May 6th, representatives from the Save the VA Committee were back again in Washington, D.C., this time for an all day meeting with the VA. The meeting was intended to serve as a follow-up to the meeting held on January 28th with Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki. One (of many) items that needed further discussion from that meeting was review of the data used to support the proposal to reconfigure services in the VA Black Hills Health Care System, which includes closure of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
VA subject matter experts briefed the attendees which included members of the Save the VA Committee, staff from Congressional offices, and representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Subjects such as veteran population and enrollment, projected cost for domiciliary construction, estimates for renovation costs, and costing methodology for mothballing were reviewed in detail.
Although a productive meeting, there were still outstanding questions about the data that need to be resolved and the discussion did not stray far from the stated agenda to include significant dialogue on quality care for veterans, historic preservation concerns, or aspects of the Save the VA counterproposal, the issues that are foremost in the minds of Save the VA and the National Trust.
Following the meeting with the VA, we joined the Save the VA Committee for meetings on the Hill with Senator Johnson and Representative Noem. A highlight of a long day was getting the reassurance that the South Dakota delegation is supportive of our efforts and is ready to work with us on moving our agenda forward. We expect next steps to include a debrief of the meeting from the VA to Secretary Shinseki as well as outreach from Congressional stakeholders to the VA.
Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
At the heart of the fight to save the Hot Springs VA Medical Center from closure is the goal of ensuring that veterans continue to receive high quality medical care, which the Battle Mountain Sanitarium has provided for 106 years. A significant part of that high quality care includes the Hot Springs community’s open-armed support for its veterans. Shuttering the doors at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium will erase all the benefits veterans receive from its Veterans Town, as well as significantly impact the economic vitality of the city and surrounding area. The VA is the largest employer in this former resort town. It will also severely challenge the ability of tribal veterans from nearby reservations to access that care due to increased travel distances.
I was reminded of this community impact when I visited Hot Springs and the Pine Ridge Reservation in late April. On my many passes along the idyllic main street, lined with pink sandstone buildings fronting the meandering Fall River, and through the well-kept residential areas, I was constantly greeted with signs, ribbons and banners shouting support for the local effort to keep the VA Medical Center in Hot Springs. Even the local Dairy Queen™ pledged its support, along with an advertisement for a chocolate pretzel blizzard. My visit with Oglala Sioux veterans vividly brought to life the challenges they already face in reaching Hot Springs for their care and how those would become virtually insurmountable if services were moved to Rapid City.
This is a grassroots driven effort to protect veterans’ medical care, a community’s quality of life, and a National Historic Landmark. But it also represents a much larger issue surrounding the VA’s decision-making process. Several months ago the National Trust began a project to examine the cultural resource management practices of the VA. We’re excited to be nearing the completion of that report which will soon be nationally released. Our hope is that the VA will realize that the veterans it serves, and the communities and buildings that serve those veterans, are not just numbers but rather are integral, qualitative parts that contribute to the agency’s very mission of honorably caring for the men and women who have fought for our nation.
Written by Rhonda Sincavage, Associate Director for Government Relations and Policy
The last few weeks have been busy on the congressional budget front with the release of both the VA budget submission for FY14 and the President’s FY14 budget. We were surprised and disheartened to learn of the VA’s $9.9 million dollar lease request in Rapid City for a new rehabilitation treatment center and outpatient clinic to replace the facilities in Hot Springs. This was a change in strategy for the VA, who previously had requested funding a major construction project in Rapid City, and a departure from the good faith effort of VA that a decision about Battle Mountain Sanitarium had not been finalized.
Fortunately, we have a Congressional champion on our side. Senator Johnson was able to address this issue directly with Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, at a Senate hearing on April 18th. When Senator Johnson expressed his concern about the leasing request, Secretary Shinseki explained that it was an error and vowed to notify the authorizing committee that this was a mistake and should not be considered.
Although the fate of Battle Mountain Sanitarium is still undecided, this is a small victory for advocates who are working to ensure a favorable outcome in Hot Springs. Our thanks go out to Senator Johnson who is a true hero for our cause!
By Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
Last week the long awaited meeting between the National Trust's partner Save the VA Committee, the tri-state congressional delegation, and VA Secretary Shinseki to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs' proposed closure of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium took place in Washington, D.C. Five representatives of the Save the VA Committee, with the support of congressional members from Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming, as well as the South Dakota governor, provided an impassioned presentation on why the VA should continue to use the medical center to serve our nation's veterans. While the National Trust was not invited to attend the meeting, our message was shared through the Save the VA members and a handy folder of information that was provided to attendees that clearly stated our concern and purpose. As has been the case with much of the advocacy fight at the Battle Mountain Sanitarium, we now wait, to hear of Secretary Shinseki's response to the alternative proposed by the Save the VA and the veterans and Hot Springs locals it represents.
john E Renstrom on November 09, 2012
when I joined the service in 1967 on of the recruitment persuasions was the comment that this facility would be here for you after you get out. it has been and inspite of upper management the people committed to caring for returning veterans have done so. every veteran since the civil war has found hope and healing here. now to close it down and rent a CBOC down town some were farming out diagnostic services some were else is a slap in the face from this administration to ever veteran that has served and a put down to the people that have served us.
Karen Meston on August 15, 2012
The first time I entered the main complex my reaction was, WOW! The pictures don't do it justice. It is very impressive and beautiful. I, too, think of the many people who have been cared for in these buildings and the many who have cared for them. It is a spiritual place, the sort of setting that is conducive to healing. If we all work together, it will continue to be a place of healing for our veterans for many years into the future.
Pat Lyke, Hot Springs, SD on June 09, 2012
When I first entered the buildings designed in 1902, I was amazed at the overall design and craftsmanship. Constructed of local sandstone and Douglas fir, they were built to last hundreds of years. I feel very fortunate to be able to care for this complex. Every time I enter the buildings, I think of the thousands of veterans who have been helped, and hope that the history of veterans being healed here continues long into the future.