By Taisha Walker
The tension is bubbling up in Hot Springs.
“They are killing this town,” said Veteran Donald Ackerman.
By they, Ackerman means the veterans administration, which plans to phase out the Hot Springs inpatient and nursing room unit. The VA will also shift much of the services from Hot Springs to Rapid City in an effort to provide better care.
“If we were to purchase the care that they currently access at our VA facility in the local communities that they live, including Hot Springs, some of the veterans might tell us that’s a good idea,” said Stephen DiStasio, Associate Director of Veterans Affairs.
But that wasn’t the case at the town hall meeting at the Meuller Center. Most of the veterans and their family members that packed the theatre on Monday night didn’t welcome the idea of traveling more than an hour to Rapid City for medical care. Many of them even heckled DiStasio.
“I will not go,” said Ackerman. “I will die here in Hot Springs before I go to Rapid City because they don’t treat me as well as I’m being treated here.”
Other vets argue that removing the 102-year- old domiciliary will shatter the Hot Springs economy. After all, they say the VA is the number one employer in town.
“We already own the dirt here in Hot Springs and if they want to build a domiciliary, I think they should just build it right here,” veteran William Elliot said.
“We certainly acknowledge that it will be an impact on the community but we think there may be other things that could be brought here,” added Janet Murphy with Veterans Affairs.
Murphy says if the proposal becomes a reality, no VA employees would lose their jobs; those employees would be offered other jobs within the VA. Even so, some veterans say they want to keep things just the way they are.