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Veterans demand answers for delayed medical appointments, proposed VA facility closures in South Dakota

Veterans demand answers regarding healthcare, proposed closures in South Dakota
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 11:11 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -The Regional Director for the VA Health Care System was in Sioux Falls today for a meeting with the South Dakota Veterans Council. It was months in the making, and many pointed questions came his way.

The questions asked of regional director Rob McDivitt spanned from concerns to outrage.

A veteran asked about updating her medical files after an appointment. “Why does it take so long to get back into our medical files, so our providers know what’s going on?”

Veterans advocate Erik Miller has spent over 30 years walking alongside veterans with suicidal and/or addiction issues. His eyes were determined yet he remained composed as he voiced his frustration.

“What’s the price of one life? What’s the price?” said Miller. He spoke of three Veterans being turned away from VA care while struggling with addiction or suicidal ideation. “They requested the help were denied, put on long waiting lists, they took their own life.”

Others asked questions about how their medical records could be accessible to nearby Emergency rooms, should the VA continue with plans to close the ER at the Sioux Falls VA Hospital.

After Monday’s departure of Sioux Falls VA Hospital Director Lisa Simoneau, McDivitt directed those in attending to the new Hospital Director, Tim Pendergrass.

“We have the obligation, Dr. Pendergrast and I, to operate a Veteran’s health care system for US South Dakota veterans,” said McDivitt.

US Representative Dusty Johnson says major changes are needed to provide proper medical care for veterans.

“Last Monday, we had 192 people call the hotline at the Sioux Falls VA to get authorization to get care in the community. Only 50 of them got through the others hung up because they were on hold too long. That kind of critical failure is unacceptable,” said Johnson.

When a veteran does receive an appointment for care outside the VA system, some are being turned away from providers, especially Sioux Falls dentists who say the VA isn’t paying its bills.

“And we’ve elevated that all the way up to central office and through the network and that’s being worked on,” said Pendergrass.

Proposed facility closures, including the ER in Sioux Falls are a concern. Representative Johnson says it’s based on faulty projections of what care will be needed in the future.

“We worked hard to get Secretary Wilke in Hot Springs, standing shoulder to shoulder with me, promising the Veterans in that area that there would be no reduction of services in Hot Springs. The fact that VA has gone back on that word two years later. That’s what’s frustrating,” said Johnson.

The next step for the potential closures is a year of public input.

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