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 Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
Earlier this year representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Save the VA met with The American Legion in Washington, D.C., to share our work on preventing the closure of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, as proposed by the Department of Veteran Affairs. That collaborative partnership quickly grew with a visit to Hot Springs by members of The American Legion's System Worth Saving Task Force. There they hosted a town forum with veterans as well as detailed meetings with administration and staff of the VA Black Hills Health Care System (VABHHCS). The result was a report that included several recommendations including that VA leadership should upgrade the existing medical facility to meet disability requirements and maintain the current facility in Hot Springs.
Part of The American Legion's ongoing commitment to Hot Springs and ensuring that veterans receive the best possible care in existing VA medical centers included a resolution passed by The American Legion National Executive Committee in mid-October urging the VA and Congress to take steps that will provide greater stewardship and resources to the more than 2,000 historic properties under the agency's management, including Battle Mountain Sanitarium.
The American Legion is the country's largest veterans service organization with more than two million members nationwide. Their support of our efforts to protect Battle Mountain Sanitarium and other VA historic properties is a tremendous boost and is one we hope to exercise in encouraging the new VA Secretary Bob McDonald to take up our cause. To that end, the National Trust recently reached out to the new secretary and received a prompt response. As a former member of Cincinnati's Cultural Task Force, Secretary McDonald participated in our announcement of two Cincinnati Icons to our National Treasures portfolio earlier this year. We are hopeful that his support and appreciation of those two historic properties will be replicated for the historic properties he now stewards for veterans and the American public. We are now waiting on his acceptance of our invitation for a meeting.
- Written by Amy Cole, Team Member
The VA recently concluded its “scoping period” for its analysis of the future of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium. During this period, where the VA sought the public’s thoughts about its plans, many public meetings were held in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming, and written comments were also accepted. The National Trust submitted detailed comments outlining our concerns and we were encouraged that so many of our members and supporters joined the effort, describing their personal experiences and concerns about the VA’s plans for Battle Mountain.
The sibling of a disabled veteran of the Iraq War commented that “ [o]ur family is thankful that the Department of Veterans Affairs has such a strong presence right here in the Black Hills to provide that treatment. I'm seriously concerned that the VA's plan to abandon the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs will affect the level of care my brother will require over the decades to come. The Hot Springs facility is a remarkable building in a singular location.”
A long-time local resident observed, “I have known a lot of people who have been helped by this hospital. I feel it would be horrific thing to close it down. Our Veterans need the best help we can give them for all they do for us. So please don't take this peaceful place away from them.”
Other commenters focused on the sustainable aspects of historic preservation noting, " [r]ehabilitating historic buildings using green building practices provides a unique opportunity to stitch past together with future and create vibrant places that are socially and culturally connected, and responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.”
Dozens of like-minded people from New York to California shared their thoughts with the VA and let them know that retaining and continuing to use the Battle Mountain Sanitarium was of paramount importance.
Stay tuned to see how the VA reacts to what it heard.
Written by Adam Jones, Team Member
The fight to save Battle Mountain Sanitarium continues, and the U.S. Congress is getting more involved.
On Thursday, August 14, a Congressional field hearing was held in Hot Springs, SD to discuss the future of Battle Mountain Sanitarium. The hearing was requested by South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith, both of whom were in attendance. Joining Representatives Noem and Smith were Florida Congressmen Jeff Miller, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Gus Bilirakis, Vice Chairman of the committee.
A capacity crowd of some 500 people attended the hearing, held at the Mueller Center in Hot Springs, and all in attendance strongly opposed the VA’s proposal to close Battle Mountain Sanitarium. The hearing included two witness panels. The first witness panel consisted of local advocates from Save the VA, the American Legion, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the state of South Dakota’s Department of Veterans Affairs, all of whom strongly oppose the VA’s plan to shutter Battle Mountain Sanitarium. The second witness panel included regional directors from the VA Department who defend the proposal.
The first witness panel was very well received by the Members of Congress, who earlier in the day toured the Battle Mountain Sanitarium campus. Chairman Miller commented on how impressed he was with the public turnout at the hearing, and he also complimented, as did Vice Chair Bilirakis, the quality of the Hot Springs VA facility. Miller said that photos do not do the facility justice and Bilirakis said he was “impressed with the services provided here—we must keep them here.” Later during the first panel, Chairman Miller commented that the recent VA reform bill, which was signed into law on August 7, 2014, includes $5 billion for the VA to use on construction and renovation, explaining that there is indeed money available for the VA to fix up Battle Mountain Sanitarium if it so chooses.
In contrast, the VA panel received tough questions from the Members of Congress, and the Members of Congress were often skeptical of the VA’s answers to their questions. In one such exchange, Congressman Smith questioned the VA’s assertion that it is difficult to recruit doctors and other healthcare personnel to Hot Springs, with Congressman Smith noting that the inability to recruit to Hot Springs is likely due to the fact that medical services have been systematically removed from the facility for years, and because the VA has already stated its intention to close the facility.
All told, the Members of Congress, including the top two legislators on the influential House Committee on Veterans Affairs, stated their intention to do all they can to keep Battle Mountain Sanitarium open and serving the healthcare needs of veterans in the South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska tri-state region. The National Trust will continue working with Members of Congress and local advocacy groups to try to make that outcome a reality.
Written by Jenny Buddenborg, Project Manager
More than two years ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation became engaged in a fight to save the historic Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, from abandonment by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While great strides have been made over that period of time, including widespread opposition to the VA’s proposal, the agency has continued on a determined path to close this National Historic Landmark that has provided quality medical care to our nation’s military veterans for 107 years. Because of this, the National Trust recently listed Battle Mountain Sanitarium as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Since 1988, the National Trust has used its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places to raise awareness about the threats facing some of the nation's greatest treasures. The list, which has identified more than 250 sites to date, has been so successful in galvanizing preservation efforts that only a handful of sites have been lost. Dozens of sites have been saved through the tireless work of the National Trust, its partners, and local preservationists across the country. By naming Battle Mountain Sanitarium to the 11 Most list, we want to encourage the VA’s wise stewardship of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium and the hundreds of other historic VA facilities that also face an uncertain fate.
In late June, the National Trust partnered with the local advocacy group Save the VA and the South Dakota Members of Congress to hold a press event announcing the 11 Most listing. The event fell on a clear, blue day with the majestic dome of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium domiciliary building perched on the hill in the distance. David Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer, hosted the event and kicked off the remarks. To hear the entire presentation, watch the video below.
Karen Erickson Stover on October 06, 2014
My Uncle Arthur Erickson was a patient at Battle Mountain in 1919. He was in the Navy during WWI when he contracted Tuberculosis while serving in a ship's engine room. It is unknown how long Arthur stayed there for treatment. He died at the age of 25 and is buried in California.
j Adams on August 03, 2014
My great grand uncle was wounded in the Civil war and moved from PA to MN with his wife and had a large family. After his wife died, he went to Wyoming with one of his sons and eventually to BMS shortly after it opened and died there in 1926. He was a survivor in many respects, born in a time where you had to make your own life on farmland, harsh elements being the easiest to bear maybe. I'm very grateful the VA was there for him, as well as for my own father, a WWII vet. I met many of my father's friends at his VA home in Yountville, CA and when he died (he was there 4 years) the medical staff there took great care of him and I go back at least once a year to the cemetery there. I think closing BMS would be like taking away all the gravestones there. You can't erase one or the other. It is as much the medical facility as it is a place honor those who found themselves there from war related injuries and those who died there.
David Giles on June 29, 2014
I have visited this site on multiple occasions. The ramps between floors are extremely steep, far exceeding the standards put in place by the ADA. hey are very difficult to manage if you are disabled. It would be fool hardy to risk a wheel chair down one of the ramps and a Sisyphean burden to push one up. It makes for a poor hospital by today's modern standards and has some major physical risks to staff and patients. Furthermore, the town of Hot Springs treats Vets badly but is angry the VA is moving. The building is beautiful, no doubt. The building should be preserved, but not as a hospital. It does not make for a reasonable hospital by today's standards. On a personal note the hospital served my great great grandfather after he was gassed following WWI and my family continues to be connected to it. I do value the building, but it is shameful to say the VA is a bad steward of this building. The VA must be committed to the needs of the veterans, not a building. And if this 100+ year old building is substandard in its physical dimensions to provide adequate care and be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act then the stewardship must fall to another party. The VA must be steward to hundreds of thousands of vets. Medical facilities are being built to be as cutting edge as possible and this building is far too costly to retrofit.
Ted Spencer on May 13, 2013
I had my Military Retirement Physical in 2010 at Hot Springs VA Battle Mountain. I then had two subsequent follow-up appointments. The staff was always very helpful, friendly, and courteous. I remember how beautiful and peaceful this facility was--and still is! I've served two tours of duty in Iraq, and two in Afghanistan, and the setting in Hot Springs is very conducive for healing, sprituality , and recovery. It would be a disgrace and disservice to abandon such a great facility, as it can easily continue to be a place of peace, solitude, and healing for generations of our nation's veterans.
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.