Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Sad Case of the Hot Springs VA

Your Captain is currently vacationing in Hot Springs, SD. A vacation needed after his holiday vacation which didn't include a lot of relaxing or lying around.

So I arrive and everywhere on the community center signs, fliers at the bar, posters at the gas station, etc. etc. are slogans and sayings to "Save the VA" since the VA is the largest employer in town and it is slated to be closed.

My observation is short and succinct.

Has America, (in this particular case - a heavy republican district) become so dependent upon government that the best "local economic plan" they can come up with is to beg tax payers from across the nation to subsidize a money-losing operation AS OPPOSED TO trying to lure and entice other employers to set up shop in the area?

I mean, really. Even when the VA wasn't going to be shut down, wouldn't most people say,

"Hey, you know, we're a one employer town. Maybe we ought to diversify our economy a bit and try to get some more employers into town."

Or, could somebody be so bold to say,

"Hey, you know. Forget just keeping the VA here. And forget just attracting ONE additional employer. How about we open up a can of Hong Kong and try to get as many businesses to set up shop here as possible. SAving only one employer is only going to save so many jobs. But pursuing other employers have an UNLIMITED potential."

But no, no. Our efforts are best spent lobbying congress to keep that ONE government agency in town.

Just born in the absolute wrong time in American history I guess if I have to ask outlandishly stupid questions like these.


Ryan Fuller said...

"How about we open up a can of Hong Kong and try to get as many businesses to set up shop here as possible."

This sentence is awesome. I think I'll try to use this one in the future.

Anonymous said...

Where's the next closest Veteran's Administration clinic, and how many veterans live in the area?

Mike James

Pirran said...

Judging from their Wiki entry, I think you might not be the only one. I doubt he (she, probably) is exactly a Republican, but instructive anyway....

"Hot Springs has beautiful historic sandstone buildings nestled in the hills of South Dakota, but we must make sure that we do not miss lead potential tourists with the idea that we are close to major attractions. The reality is that we are hours from Mount Rushmore and other Black Hills events and locations. Our town is very consecutive and most moderate's and liberals find our town to be some what judgmental. Senior citizens are our best demographic model for visitors at the point. Young people and families quickly run out of things to do when visiting our town. We have had several chances to change this over the years but have not kept up with technology or stayed current in our approach when promoting tourism. We have a new tourism director, and we all hope that she can shake things up a bit. As of now we are just a sleepy little town, with one-stop light. A town where the Constitution of the United States of America has been re-written to accommodate the way, we feel about freedom of speech. A town who does not believe in sex other than between man and women and only for procreation. A place where liberal views are not tolerated, and Affrican Americans, Hispanics and other religions are tolerated but are watched very closely. We are the example of how things are done, and we will run you out of town if you do not follow our ideas and rules. Please come visit us and spend your money, so we can buy more guns, build more churches and put more liberal's in jail for exercising their right to free speech. Don't even think about getting an abortion in our town. We will put you in jail for even thinking about it",_South_Dakota

Southern Man said...

You weren't born at the wrong time, just a difficult one. Just keep blogging and keep voting until we fix it.

Unknown said...


Captain Capitalism said...

When I stopped in at the local VFW they're saying they're going to consolidate the VA into the Sturgis/Spearfish VA. Though, I didn't think there was one in Spearfish. I thought it was in Rapid City. This is just bar talk though.

Aurini said...

These same people would never beg on the street themselves, but somehow it's okay if they're doing it for a company.

Anonymous said...

VA hospitals are located in:
-- Fort Meade near Sturgis,
-- Hot Springs,
-- Sioux Falls,
-- Fargo, ND,
-- Cheyenne WY,
-- Sheridan WY,
-- Fort Harrison, MT (near Helena)
-- Omaha, NE

Justin Gausman said...

I'm from Hot Springs - on the Save the VA Campaign. You need to get your facts straight. The VA in Hot Springs is actually a very large SUCCESS - we have one of the best PTSD & substance abuse programs in the nation for veterans. The Hot Springs VA serves thousands of veterans from a multi-state area, including nearly 3700 veterans from the Pine Ridge Reservation alone. The issue is that the Department of Veterans Affairs has deceptively reduced services offered at the Hot Springs location over the course of many years, which in turn makes the figures look like it's a waste - when in all actuality there are fairly long waiting lists for care. The proposal - yes, it's a PROPOSAL, not an actual decision - is to close the Hot Springs VA & build a new Domiciliary in Rapid City. However, the Dept of Veterans Affairs provided absolutely no figures that validate their claims that it would be beneficial cost-wise, in fact we are discovering it's much cheaper to restore & expand services in the Hot Springs VA as it is than for the VA to close.

They cite high maintenance costs, but as the site is a NATIONAL LANDMARK as designated by the Secretary of the Interior, the government would still by law be required to pay maintenance costs on the buildings & premises.

You have COMPLETELY misunderstood the Save the VA effort and in turn misrepresented the entire town. This is not about the economics. It is about the well-being of the men and women who earned the best treatment they can get. Obviously if you saw that sign at Taco John's you must also have seen the "Veterans Town" sign at the edge of town. Hot Springs' VA has been serving veterans for over 107 years and the South Dakota State Veterans Home has been in Hot Springs for over 120 years, serving vets from as far back as the Civil War.

Justin Gausman said...

You have valid points about drawing more employers into town being beneficial to our local economy. That is something, too, that is being worked on. There is an underground movement in Hot Springs of young professionals that are working to bring new businesses & ideas to the table, including an expansive guided tour of the area that would use modern technology (iPhones, iPads, other tablets & mobile devices) to deliver an augmented reality application to its users so as they walk through town, they can read blurbs about the historical buildings & view photos from bygone times to compare with the current locations.

That is all beside the point. Not being from here, you might not have a good idea of exactly how many veterans reside in the area & how many are treated at the VA... but trust me when I say that on February 25th, we are holding a march & the entire country will be able to see that we are a town that actually gives a rat's end about the well-being of people that served in our military.

To answer your later comment, yes, there is a VA in Fort Meade (near Sturgis) and there is a clinic in Rapid City. The proposed plan is to close/reduce the Hot Springs VA, build new facilities in Rapid City (a multi-million dollar waste, as, like I said before, we have perfectly useable facilities here that by law have to be kept up anyway) and to contract out services to local hospitals.

We have found horror stories from around the country of veterans having their medical contracts being cancelled by the VA & they end up having to work with their Senators & House Reps to get it reinstated so they can get the care they need - do you think veterans deserve to have to deal with that?

Once again, the Hot Springs VA also handles care for nearly 3700 Native American veterans from the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is (I sure hope you can verify this on your own - it's everywhere on the internet) the poorest reservation in the nation. They already struggle to get to Hot Springs, some making 3-4 hour trips from the rez, so moving services to Ft. Meade means another hour and half on the road - which for elderly veterans & disabled veterans can sometimes mean that they might choose to not get the care they need (and DESERVE) simply because the distance is too far.

Draw your own conclusions based on the information I have presented you, but just know that what you perceived from being in town & what the reality is are two completely different things.

@Pirran, the guy who wrote that on the Wikipedia page is a former PR person for the city and got fired, so that's his spiteful revenge. Obviously none of it is truthful or accurate. He was reported to Wiki long ago for abuse.

Save the VA Campaign

Captain Capitalism said...

Anything to bring in manufacturing, or a company's HQ there? I am a young professional and when I hear people my age say, "young professionals are working on it" I think opening up a coffee shop or putting together an art store. Nothing that is going to bring serious employment or industry.

What about approaching companies like 3M or Polaris or any company unfortunate enough to be located in California and wooing them to move their HQ, if not at least set up a factory?

Otherwise, I fear Hot Springs will just become the next Edgemont.

Anonymous said...

Aaron, you've been to the town, so you already understand how challenging the barriers to entry are for bringing a multi-national corporation's HQ or manufacturing plant to the area. First, let's address manufacturing: Factories require several things in order to be productive. Let's ignore product and whatever market the product is serving. They require input and raw materials, labor, and a channel to distribute product.
With regards to input and raw materials, the lowest marginal costs would dictate that manufacturing happens near a source of raw materials. Hot Springs doesn't have much in the way of natural raw materials except for lumber, the cutting of which is highly regulated and not optimal on a cost efficency model inside the Black Hills. Albeit at increasing marginal costs, it *might* be viable to allow transportation of those materials from other areas to Hot Springs; but how to get them there? There is no developed rail system that runs through Hot Springs, so large bulk delivery is out. Trucking input to a manufacturing site might be an option, but lack of access to an interstate highway increases transportation costs and makes Rapid City a more viable and attractive.
Next is labor. Hot Springs is about 6,000 people? Not much in the way of labor here. With increasing automation in industry, that might not be such a problem, but it would still require hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs to plan, maintain, operate, and manage a facility. Does that mean a re-allocation of 20% of the towns workforce (just to throw a number out)? If not, is it possible to attract that same proportion of the towns population into the area? Doing so would require land, housing, and other facilities and services for the sudden influx of population. A town that small simply can't afford a large influx of population. Lastly, output, storage, and channel distribution face the same logistics problem that input faces; there simply isn't the infrastructure in the area for a large-scale facility. I doubt seriously that municipal tax is a real problem for attracting manufacturing; in SD, most of that is governed by the state with little need for municipalities to govern further tax laws. A manufacturing facility plan would be comparing these factors against other sites, and surely other areas would look more attractive.
So what about an HQ? Well, many of the same types of problems that face manufacturing will face HQ relocation. Right up front, that word, relocation, means a lot of cost. The reasons a company may need to relocate are individual to that company (which defeats a blanket Hot Springs marketing campaign of 'move your HQ here'), and widely varied. Labor is the same issue as above. The lifestyle and associations of the town might also be a factor, being rural versus urban, etc.

The efforts of the 'young professionals' (a pretty non-descript name, if you ask me) to bring small businesses into the area is a noble effort, and likely has the highest chances to succeed in bringing in new blood to the town. The town does need growth and sustainability. The VA provides sustainability, but no growth. To grow, the town must grow one job at a time.

-Hot Springs grad, turned urban

Mary Goulet said...

Read Justin's posts. He sums it up well. This is about taking away valuable help for our veterans from all over this country. Our country has sent them to serve and our country must help them heal during the rest of their lifetimes. If not, we will have more than 18 a day returning veterans comitting suicide.

Our representatives in Washington will retire after two or more years of service with pensions and full medical. Don't our veterans with two or more years of service to our country deserve at least the medical benefits that this country is trying to systematically take away from them?

The VA in Hot Springs is one of the best for vets returning with PTSD and substance abuse problems. It should be expanded to help more veterans. PTSD and chemical abuse are lifetime issues. Can't our government provide lifetime aid so that our service men and women can become productive citizens when they return home?

Perhaps our government only csres about the top percent, which often includes themselves.

Captain Capitalism said...

Please don't go the intellectually dishonest route and pull at people's heart strings.

Am I to believe these veterans would NOT receive treatment? Who said anything about them NOT receiving treatment.

I presume they would have to drive up to Spearfish because it's cost effective, not that they're going to be denied treatment. So you are essentially complaining about a 75 minute commute?

Justin Gausman said...

"Intellectually dishonest?" We have the facts and statistics and have done research to back it up. It is intellectually dishonest to write off these men & women's lives & health. The cold hard truth is that of soldiers returning from Iraq & Afghanistan, 1 in 8 are returning with PTSD symptoms.


Mary's figure is correct. Around 18 returning veterans attempt to commit suicide every day due to PTSD, substance abuse or other mental/physical health issues that resulted from military duty.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has presented zero statistical information that closing the VA in Hot Springs would be cost-effective as, like I said, the grounds have to be maintained ANYWAY since it's a National Landmark - and (don't ignore this part of their proposal) they are intending on spending millions more tax-payer dollars building new facilities in Rapid City instead of utilizing perfectly useable ones that already exist.

Yes, they (the veterans) are complaining about an additional 75 minute commute. For an elderly Army vet in a wheelchair with no legs who comes from Nebraska or Wyoming or for a Native American former Marine who lives on the reservation, where nearly 80% of the population is unemployed & the life expectancy is 48 years old for men, 52 for women, YES that is very much an imposition, both financially and physically.


For someone who seems talk an awful lot about caring about America and its economy, you don't seem to care much for the people who fought to make it possible for you to not have to live in a place like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

If you want to talk economics, Save the VA will run circles around you with facts proving that our VA isn't, as you put it, "money-losing operation."

And if you have a problem with providing American veterans quality healthcare, including housing them while they receive PTSD and substance abuse treatment, I think you had better go talk to the families of the soldiers that committed suicide before they could be treated because of waiting lists caused by reduction of services at VAs across the country, and talk to the 130,000 to 200,000 veterans nationwide who are homeless on any given night.



Captain Capitalism said...

That right there is what I'm talking about.

The vets are not going to be left in the streets.

Presumably the PTSD specialists in Hot Springs would be moved to Spearfish? No? The PTSD services will still be available, just in Spearfish.

This more and more seems to be about the town than the vets. And just like teacher's unions using innocent children as a hostage, it's the same thing.

Anonymous said...

You really don't get it, do you? it is mainly about the veterans. They are systematically taking away the medical benefits from veterans. The final goal is for all veterans to get their care at local facilities, unequipped to handle PTSD, TBI and substance abuse that is unique to veterans.

We have 18 veterans a day returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are committing suicide. They served our country during their finest years. Our country must serve their medical needs for the rest of their lives. If you knew anything about this, you would know that PTSD is a lifetime struggle and needs ongoing support for the veteran to be able to live a decent life and contribute back to society.

Do you have a clue why so many vets choose to remain in the Hot Springs area after treatment? The Hot Springs VA is one of the best facilities for treatment of PTSD and substance abuse in the country and the community of Hot Springs is equally important for the recovery of many veterans.

Please check out things more thoroughly before you post your rants.

p.s. Have you ever researched how much in pensions and medical benefits our representatives in congress receive after serving two or four years? Well, our veterans have served us....including you.

Captain Capitalism said...

It's like I'm trying to rationalize with a child. I'm not going to repeat myself. All you've just convinced me you're abusing the veterans for your own cause and nothing as noble as the veterans themselves.

"Veterans from all over the country come to this facility."

So what do they care if they're treated for PTSD in Hot Springs vs. Spearfish vs. Topeka Kansas?

I'm done, I don't debate with intellectually dishonest people.

Hot Sam said...

You know, I respect the right of people to try to protect something they enjoy as an entitlement, but dont try to hide the fact that you're protecting your own convenience behind some bogus BS.

You're arguing your emotions as if there is reason behind them. The new facility isn't a waste - the current facility is a waste. It doesn't get enough patients to justify the cost. Consolidation of VA facilities to save money in the long run has been going on for a decade. People whined about closing those other facilities too. GSA has already done their analysis, and their numbers are better than your numbers. The fact is that you are so full of your own interest, you'll believe any piece of statistical or accounting garbage that preserves what you want no matter how stupid it is.

I'm a disabled veteran, and I have a facility close by. I got lucky. If it weren't here, I'd have to drive 30 miles or use my private insurance. But just a few miles down the road they closed other facilities and built a brand new one further south. Some people gain, others lose, but overall quality of health care improved and costs were cut. There will be more cost cutting.

You do know that the VA pays for transportation expenses? They even contract shuttle busses in some areas to help veterans get care. AMVETS and other service organizations sponsor van pickups for disabled vets. Instead of moaning on the internet, open your wallet and do some service for veterans instead of begging others to pay for it. Frankly, I know from experience that the VA provides care to "vets" who never served a day of combat or had a service connected disability. I see first hand the waste at our hospital.

The bottom line is the bottom line. These facilities are too expensive to keep open. And dont drag out cow turds about historical preservation. The reason congressmen and senators and activists get things "preserved" as national landmarks is to protect the government pork coming in. Your hospital isn't any more "historic" than my great uncle's charcoal grill. Take a fracking picture and tear the crap down.

So stop getting all gushy with your emotions and crying all over the internet. I might get upset if Congress eliminated the mortgage interest deduction because I bought a house reliant on that tax benefit. Of congress cut the benefit, I wouldn't wail about how many jobs will be lost in the construction, finance and real estate sectors because i really don't give a shit about them.

So i understand your emotions. But our government shouldnt make decisions based on the strength of your emotions.

Maybe a handful of patients chose to live in West Bum Fuck, SD just because there was a VA facility there, but not many. Many employees might have moved there for jobs and others may have opened up businesses nearby on the idea the facility was permanent. But a permanent base is not a guarantee. Base closure is part of operational risk, and no one owes you a risk free life. Everyone else whose neighborly base closed during BRAC pitched the same exact hissy fit you are.

So bitch and moan to your congress critter. I'm sure you're welcome to voice your opinion here, but serial posting your self interested propaganda is abusing the privilege of your invitation.

Hot Sam said...

Mary, our representatives will NOT retire with full medical and benefits after two years or four years or eight years. That bogus bunch of bullshit has been circulating around the internet for years, and only gullible morons believe it.

Representatives are on the same retirement plan as federal employees. They make monthly contributions from their pay and earn credit toward retirement based on years of service. No one gets a "full retirement" after a few years. You have to serve at least 5 years to qualify for any benefits. Even at twenty years you only get a fraction of your salary at your retirement age. Federal retirement is a three part combination of FERS, the federal matching 401(k), and social security. All three require contributions.

Under the old CSRS, old guys like Joe Biden and John McCain could get generous pensions. That system is dead, and soon all of its participants will be too.

Do you have any idea how many people have served two years in the military? Do you realize that most of them have never seen combat? No, two years of honorable service should not be a lifelong entitlement to health care except for service connected disabilities. The reason your VA hospital is overcrowded (and mine) with long waits is because of impoverished people who spent a few years in the military and are using it as their medicaid program.

The military broke my back, so they bought me. But when I ended my first active duty tour of three years, I never expected the VA to provide me care for the rest of my life. We cannot afford to do that.

Justin Gausman said...

If we're allegedly "abusing the veterans," then why are so many actual veterans in Save the VA and supporting our groups?

You know, maybe there are a few people who are helping Save the VA just because they are concerned about their businesses or their property values or their own agendas. That's their perogative. But by and large the people against this VA closure are veterans and their immediate family members.

There is nothing "intellectually dishonest" about caring about the fact that my grandfather served 21 years in the Air Force and I want him to receive the best care he can get. I will not apologize for that. It IS intellectually dishonest to ignore the factual counter-points made and to sidestep anything that might actually be truthful or valid.

It is intellectually dishonest to choose to change topics to irrelevant issues when someone proves you wrong. It is the same sort of switch tactics used by any politician who can't admit they're wrong. You've already made yourself out to be the "child," by refusing to engage in logical DIALOGUE.

I've admitted that you are correct - that Hot Springs as a community does need to try to draw other businesses in. But that is not what this is about to me. Or to the veterans. Or to their families. See, here in South Dakota, there still are actually such things as integrity and loyalty. I don't look at a corporation filled with people from janitors to CEOs and honestly believe that every single person in that company has the exact same opinion. Give me credit for having a sincere belief in the well-being of veterans and for wanting hard facts.

I can even admit with Nick Rowe that there are alternatives. The bottom line is indeed the bottom line. And if I personally saw hard facts, real numbers that prove that keeping the VA is a waste, I honestly would keep an open mind to opening a new facility, either in Hot Springs or in Rapid City.

But the VA has provided bullshit for stats & figures. You say the BSA has the information - where is it? DiStasio gave us just gave everyone - Veterans, VA Employees, Citizens - vague ideas and hearsay. I've seen more actual stats and figures (not emotions) showing why we should keep it open & expand it than not. I can even agree that the service they get here could indeed be offered somewhere else. But I haven't seen anything proving that this facility is a waste - again, it was and is extremely successful... and could be even more successful with an expansion. But I won't say for sure that it will be without seeing the figures.

That differentiates you & I. You come into our town, see what you want to see, and leave with nothing but some vague idea tainted by your own false perceptions.

At this point, I think we should agree to disagree, but know I respect your point of view. You have valid points, but the thing you walked away with from Hot Springs isn't the reality. The reality is that there are people in this fight who are genuinely concerned about veterans. The businesses? Yeah, they're concerned. It's their money at stake. The schools? Yeah, it's their funding at stake. But for me? I'm young. I can go anywhere. If I wanted, I could be just like you - pack up & go and never think about Hot Springs again. I don't have to worry about losing money or business.

And yet, I'm going to fight for an "entitlement" that people who served in the military earned. Not me. I don't benefit from it. I just care about my country. It's not intellectually dishonest to be sincere and open to the truth.

Hot Sam said...

Justin, the VA is not closing this facility just to pick on your town and your grandfather.

They have a limited budget and they can't put a VA hospital in every town. GSA and the VA do analyses to determine which facilities are underutilized.

Do I think that they always get this analysis right? Absolutely not. Does politics sometimes get involved? Sadly yes.

If you want to see the analysis, you can get it through a Freedom of Information Act request. Your town and your organization can question the assumptions and statistics after you've seen them. You can ask your congressman and two US senators to get involved.

If you are correct that saving this hospital is a cost saving measure, then I support you - not that my opinion counts for much.

But I dont see any rational thought here. I read angry recriminations about the VA, and pathos arguments about old war vets and poor Indian tribes, etc. That does not mean I lack compassion for veterans or the poor. It means we do not have an endless supply of money to serve everyone. It is the entitlement mentality that is running our federal deficit through the roof.

You keep saying the VA is providing BS figures. I looked for their press release and couldn't find it, and my battery is running dead. But I will take a look at it out of respect for your patriotism and Passion. From one article I read, it used to be a 200 bed facility, but now is down to ten beds, only five of which are occupied on average. The article specifically states it is an underutilized facility. The article also said that the town's local hospital will be available for VA care. I understand there is some controversy about that, but sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbled. Sorry.