Fischer responds to decision on VA hospital closure

January 8, 2017 GMT

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer continues to be concerned about the treatment of veterans in western Nebraska and across the country.

On Friday, Fischer and Congressman Adrian Smith released a joint statement in response the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) decision to close a large portion of their Hot Springs facility, emphasizing their disappointment in the move.

“Veterans in western Nebraska rely on the Hot Springs facility for the quality care they deserve. Today’s decision from the VA is disappointing, and it leaves unanswered questions for Nebraska families who have sacrificed for our country. Despite this decision, we are committed to working together with the new administration to find innovative solutions to meet the medical needs of our panhandle veterans,” the statement read.

Fischer has also followed the Veterans Choice program closely since it was enacted in 2014. The program was intended to allow veterans to obtain non-VA care to aide veterans who live in rural areas and often have to travel long distances to reach a VA facility. The alteration of services provided at Hot Springs will require veterans who received services there which are now no longer offered to travel to other facilities to receive those services.

Sen. Fischer said late Friday whether it’s veterans in Omaha, the Nebraska Panhandle or places in between, she is committed to working for veterans and bringing them the quality care they deserve.

“The Veterans Choice program, which was created in 2014, is intended to help veterans better access care,” she said. “There are still areas for improvement in this program, and addressing them is a top priority in this Congress.”

Teresa Forbes, Black Hills VA public information officer told the Star-Herald Friday the facility will remain open as a community-based, outpatient care facility and will also continue providing dialysis.

The VA issued a 34-page Record of Decision (ROD), detailing how they arrived at their decision.

As required by the National Environmental Policy Act, it “identified, analyzed, and documented the potential physical, environmental, cultural and socioeconomic impacts associated with the reconfiguration of health care services within the VA Black Hills Health Care system,” which provides healthcare to 19,000 veterans over 100,000 square miles in western South Dakota, northwestern Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.

It identified a need to reconfigure its healthcare services because the “VA has difficulty maintaining high-quality, safe, and accessible care at the Hot Springs Campus and existing locations and facilities constrain the quality of care, range of services, and access to care VA offers to Veterans in the catchment area.”

Six alternatives were evaluated in the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and proposed “different locations and combinations of facilities serving as community-based outpatient clinic, a multi-specialty outpatient clinic and a residential rehabilitation treatment program facility; expanding, renovating, or vacating existing facilities; and taking no action.”

The EIS determined the preferred alternative includes expansion of the number of provider options available to veterans through the care in the community program, renovation of Building 12 on the Hot Springs campus for a new and updated community-based outpatient clinic, construction of a multi-specialty outpatient clinic and 100-bed residential rehabilitation treatment program in Rapid City and a continued search to “identify and approve appropriate re-use of the Hot Springs Campus.” The VA BHHCS Call Center and VISN Call Center will also remain on the campus. Veterans will also have increased access to community healthcare providers, which should reduce long-distance travel for care.

Currently, the Black Hills facility covers the following nine counties in Nebraska - Box Butte, Cherry, Dawes, Garden, Grant, Morrill, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan, and Sioux.

The entire VA ROD can be found at http://www.blackhills.va.gov/documents/SD%20ROD%20on%20Final%20EIS.pdf

A town hall is scheduled for 5 p.m., Jan. 17 at the VFW Post 1681 in Gering. Anyone with concerns can meet one-on-one with VA officials at that time. A public question and answer session is scheduled for 6 p.m.