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 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.
Excerpt from The Sun-Herald (Biloxi, MS)
The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Tuesday named a century-old hospital for war veterans in Hot Springs as one of America's 11 most endangered historic places.
The Battle Mountain Sanitarium, built with pink sandstone in a Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style, is one of only 2,500 national historic landmarks in the country, said David J. Brown, the trust's executive vice president and chief preservation officer. "If you look at the building today, it's beautiful. It's been well kept, well maintained," Brown said. "But it's the plan that the VA has put forward to abandon the facility that really is the threat."
Written by Amy Cole, Team Member
Last week more than 250 people attended the first three National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public scoping meetings about the planned closure of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium. The purpose of the meetings was to give members of the public the opportunity to weigh in about the significant issues that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should analyze in depth as it begins its compliance with NEPA, ultimately resulting in an environmental impact statement to be completed in about two years. Public comments for this scoping phase will be accepted by the VA until August 16, a two-month extension from the original June 16 deadline date.
Only one person (the former director of the Battle Mountain Sanitarium facility) spoke in favor of the closure. All others spoke passionately, and often very personally, in favor of keeping the VA medical facility at Hot Springs. They talked about the quality of the medical care they received, the restorative value of the peaceful setting of the Hot Spring site, and the need for the VA to improve the data upon which it is basing its decisions. The National Trust spoke in favor of keeping the facility open, highlighting the fact that historic buildings can be rehabilitated to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and the importance of complying with all federal laws as they proceed. We will continue to actively participate in the NEPA process, pushing for the VA's continued use of Battle Mountain Sanitarium as a veterans medical facility.
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.