Dividing the above veteran counts by population for each county, we can see that Fall River, Meade, and Sanborn counties have the highest proportion of veterans in their populations:
The veteran proportion is lower than average in six of our ten most populous counties. The exceptions are Pennington, which is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base; Meade, which is home to one of our major VA hospitals; Lawrence, which is right next door to Meade and Pennington; and Yankton, which I can’t explain easily—Yankton doesn’t even have a VA clinic.
With the exception of our Black Hills sites, counties with college campuses, have lower than normal veteran populations, as do our West River reservation counties. That pattern suggests that younger populations will have lower proportions of veterans.
Herb Schaunaman served from from 1973 to 1997 in the U.S. Air Force. He visits the current clinic for physicals and eye exams. He knows that other clinics across the country have had their problems handling veterans’ issues, but he doesn’t see that in Aberdeen, calling himself and his fellow vets fortunate.
“There’s a bunch of us that are real happy with the clinic,” Schaunaman said. “I can’t even think of an example where I’ve had a problem. The people have been super. I feel very comfortable there in person.”
He said there have been days he’s gone in and the waiting room has been nearly full, but he estimates he’s never waited longer than 15 minutes [Kelda J.L. Pharris, “New VA Clinic for Aberdeen in Preliminary Stages,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.09.09].
According to Pharris’s report, the Aberdeen VA clinic has seen a marked increase in patients in recent years. Visits increased from 2,190 in 2010 to 2,574 last year and this year have already reached 2,583.
Schaunaman is one of 2,679 veterans in Brown County who can get super, low-wait health care from Uncle Sam at the Aberdeen VA outpatient clinic. The clinic serves Brown and five other South Dakota counties with a veteran population of 4,516, plus probably a few hundred more in Dickey County across the border.
The Army Corps of Engineers is seeking a peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location, and has no plans for forcible removal. But those who choose to stay do so at their own risk as emergency, fire, medical, and law enforcement response cannot be adequately provided in these areas. Those who remain will be considered unauthorized and may be subject to citation under federal, state, or local laws [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, press release, 2016.11.27].
Omaha District Commander Colonel John Henderson, who issued Friday’s “eviction notice”, maintains that dangerous elements among the protestors put the public at risk:
This transition is also necessary to protect the general public from the dangerous confrontations between demonstrators and law enforcement officials which have occurred near this area. “Unfortunately, it is apparent that more dangerous groups have joined this protest and are provoking conflict in spite of the public pleas from Tribal leaders. We are working to transition those engaged in peaceful protest from this area and enable law enforcement authorities to address violent or illegal acts as appropriate to protect public safety,” said Omaha District Commander, Col. John Henderson [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2016.11.27].
[O]ur intent is to honor the giants on whose shoulders we stand, such as Gandhi’s salt protest or MLK’s Selma protest. In the ultimate expression of alliance, we are there to put our bodies on the line, no matter the physical cost, in complete non-violence to provide a clear representation to all Americans of where evil resides. The Water Protectors are leading the way against this same evil which we must all face globally, saving ourselves and our children from the apocalyptic outcome of climate change.
…[T]he national press will be on location filming our entire action which is why it is critical that we demonstrate discipline, resolve and bravery. This is not an action of violence, if you feel any potential for violence or antisocial behavior, do not participate in actions, contact us for resources to address that first [Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, Operations Order, retrieved 2016.11.28].
The VSSR Operations Order says repeatedly that “absolutely NO weapons” are allowed. VSSR even tells its troops not to bring ammo pouches, despite their usefulness for carrying other gear.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has released its Final Environmental Impact Statement for its plan to move its main Black Hills Health Care System facility from Hot Springs to Rapid City. The VA offers the following rationale for its project:
The purpose of VA’s proposal to reconfigure health care services in the BHHCS is to provide high-quality, safe, and accessible health care for Veterans well into the twenty-first century by:
Providing locations and facilities that support VA’s efforts to enhance and maintain quality and safety of care in the 100,000-square-mile catchment area.
Ensuring facilities for Veterans receiving any services comply with accessibility requirements for handicapped individuals, support current standards of care, and can be well-maintained within available budgets and resources
Increasing access to care closer to where Veterans reside
Reducing out-of-pocket expenses for Veterans’ travel
VA has identified a need to reconfigure health care services in the BHHCS catchment area because:
VA has difficulty maintaining high-quality, safe, and accessible care at the Hot Springs Campus.
Existing locations and facilities constrain the care, range of services, and access to care VA offers to Veterans in the catchment area [Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Black Hills Health Care System, Final Environmental Impact Statement, November 2016, p. xix].
The VA says the best option is to build a new multi-specialty outpatient clinic and a 100-bed residential rehabilitation treatment program in Rapid City while converting Building 12 on the Hot Springs campus to a community-based outpatient clinic. VA estimates the cost of that plan at $217.1 million. That’s only a couple million more expensive than taking no action—i.e., keeping all current functions at the Hot Springs campus—but $68.5 million more expensive than moving the big functions to Rapid City and building a new, cheaper clinic in Hot Springs.
But money will be no object under the new fact-free fascist who will occupy the White House come January 20. Trumpist policy, to the extent that such policy exists, appears ready to explode our deficit thanks to a combination warface/veteran sloganology and fiscal cluelessness. If our Congressional delegation is nervous about the VA’s move taking pork away from Hot Springs (and the VA acknowledges that its preferred option will have “Adverse minor to moderate impact to housing and employment” and “adverse major impact to wages” in Hot Springs while having “beneficial negligible impact to housing, employment, and wages” in Rapid City), they should be able to wave a banner reading “Veterans!” under the Führer’s nose and get him to write a billion-dollar check and come for the grand opening of two new Black Hills VA hospitals linked by a new federally-subsidized railroad running coal-fired trains.
The VA EIS notes that the new VHA national pharmacy call center is bringing 120 new jobs to Hot Springs and using “underutilized or vacant” space on the historic VA campus. In bringing this call center to Hot Springs and keeping a clinic on the historic Southern Hills campus, the VA seems to be making an extra effort to include local economic preservation goals with the main mission of providing the best care anywhere. It remains to be seen whether that accommodation will satisfy our Congressional delegation or whether they will stick their buckets in for more of the new reckless deficit spending likely to flow from the new White House.
In his speech from the floor explaining the amendment, Rep. Blumenauer said veterans are telling him medical marijuana is good for what ails them:
Mr. Chairman, one of the great concerns we have is how the 2 million young Americans who were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan reintegrate back into society. Many of them return with wounds visible and invisible. We find that more than 20 percent of those 2.8 million American veterans suffer from PTSD and depression. A recent survey revealed that suicide rates among veterans are roughly 50 percent higher than among civilians. Another study found that the death rate for opioid overdoses among VA patients is nearly double the national average.
What I hear from veterans that I talk to is that an overwhelming number of them say that medical marijuana has helped them deal with PTSD, pain, and other conditions, particularly as an alternative to opioids, and I would argue that it is essential that veterans be allowed access to this as a treatment if it is legal in their State.
Twenty-four States, the District of Columbia, and Guam have passed laws that provide for legal access to medical marijuana at the recommendation of a physician to treat such conditions, ranging from seizures to glaucoma, anxiety, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury, and the symptoms associated with chemotherapy. Fourteen of these States specifically allow physicians to recommend medical marijuana for the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, PTSD.
As a result of these medical marijuana laws, more than 2 million patients across the country, including many of our veterans, now use medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically prohibits its medical providers from completing forms brought by their patients seeking recommendations regarding a veteran’s participation in a State medical marijuana program. What this means is that those patients who want to pursue medical marijuana have to go ahead and hire a physician out of their own pocket, not dealing with the medical professional of their choice, the medical professional, their VA doctor, who knows them the best. I think that is unfortunate.
I have an amendment cosponsored by Dr. Joe Heck, Sam Farr, Dana Rohrabacher, Dina Titus, Tom Reed, and others that would prohibit funds from being made available to the VA to implement this prohibition. I think it is the right thing to do for our veterans, to be able to treat them equitably, to enable them to have access to the doctor who knows them the best, giving them better treatment, and saving them money. I would respectfully request that we approve this amendment to eliminate this unjustified prohibition [Rep. Earl Blumenauer, remarks, U.S. House, 2016.05.19].
South Dakota is not among the 24 states where veterans could take their doctors’ advice to use medical marijuana. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs is expected to rule within days on whether she will reverse her February decision to reject a petition to put medical marijuana to a statewide vote in November.
So what do we think of putting a housing facility for homeless veterans in Wasta? Developer Larry Fuss rents to veterans in Rapid; now he wants to renovate the old Redwood Motel into low-rent, pet-friendly housing for homeless vets. Wasta town board member Norm Current says the locals love the idea:
Now I like Wasta as much as the next guy. The Cheyenne River Valley at Wasta is a scenic and poetic highlight of the long trip across South Dakota on I-90. And if I were homeless, I’d be hard-pressed to turn down any opportunity to get in out of the wind and rain and snow.
But does sleeping in Val Kilmer’s room in Thunderheart and being able to take the dog for a long walk along the muddy Cheyenne make up for the long drive for most provisions? Wasta residents can get groceries in Wall, just 13 miles away on I-90, but those veterans need access to jobs and services as well. Will the cost savings of renting a Wasta flat be eaten up by the necessity of buying a car and driving to Rapid City all the time? Or will the Veterans Administration and Pennington County veterans service office be able to provide reliable transportation and maybe even some visiting staff to provide a new concentration of vets in Wasta with the support they need?
Wasta is an English corruption of the Lakota word wašté, meaning good. Maybe getting away to Wasta will be good for the 34 veterans and their pets whom Fuss hopes to house by this time next year.
Under current law (SDCL 3-3-2), if public employers find that an applicant claiming veterans’ hiring preference “is of good moral character and can perform the duties of the position,” they “shall appoint the applicant to the position.” HB 1056 changes that stipulation to say that if an applicant claiming veterans’ hiring preference “possesses at least the minimum qualifications necessary to fill the position,” the [ublic employer “shall interview the applicant.”
That seems to be a big change: HB 1056 transforms the hiring preference to a mere interview preference.
HB 1056 also requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to send written notices of current state law on veterans’ preference in employment twice yearly to all public employers. (Boy, what is it about Republican legislators proposing more bureaucracy this year?)
Rep. Deutsch has lined up 100 co-sponsors out of his 104 colleagues. The only legislators not signed onto HB 1056 yet are Reps. Jim Bolin, Dan Kaiser, and Wayne Steinhauer and Senator Larry Tidemann.
Highway 11 on the east side of Sioux Falls has been known for nearly a century as Powder House Road. It’s story is really dynamite:
On Dec. 31, 1936, a group of Sioux City gang members ignited the Larson’s Hardware powder house – a building full of dynamite – to kill a fellow thief and his girlfriend.
The offending gang member, Floyd Parker, fought with two other men during an attempted dynamite theft that night. Helen Sieler ran inside to help him, but was hit with a hammer and shot eight times.
She survived and managed to crawl away from the building before the burning fuse hit the house’s 3,000 pounds of dynamite. She was thrown 150 feet, but survived and lived to join the circus as “The Woman With 10 Lives.”
The powder house sat in the spot where the Century East at Dawley Farms multiplex sits now. A historical marker on Highway 11 that told the story was removed for construction years ago, but will be returned eventually [John Hult, “Historians Irked by Powder House Road Proposal,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.07..07].
Last week, the Sioux Falls City Council decided to redesignate Highway 11 as “Veteran’s Parkway.” (Or is that “Veterans’ Parkway”, meaning it belongs to veterans, plural? Or is it “Veterans Parkway“? Hmm, no apostrophes to worry about in “Powder House Road!) They consigned “Powder House Road” to a mere frontage road nearby.
“Powder House Road” reminds us of a really interesting story that happened on that very spot. “Veteran’s Parkway” honors veterans in a place where nothing uniquely veteran-y seems to have taken place. Veterans don’t take that road to get to the VA hospital or the Veterans’ Memorial Park just south of Russell Avenue six miles away. Slapping a “Veterans” label on any old thing without a real sense of history makes the term seem generic, when it should be used intentionally and respectfully. Sioux Falls residents have brought up this disconnect, and a couple councillors last night wanted to reconsider the rename, but the majority declined to reclaim the Powder House Road name (complete with some minor parliamentary monkey business from Mayor Huether).
On the 239th anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence, I find South Dakota’s Bureau of Human Resources flying the flag and stating that our state government proudly employs 922 veterans.
Take the Census count of 67,886 veterans in South Dakota and divide by our current workforce of 454,650, and you get 14.9%. However, that Census count likely includes a lot of old-timers whom we wouldn’t expect to find in the workforce. I’m thus willing to take a wild guess and say state government is doing at least as well at hiring veterans as South Dakota’s private sector.
But check out the source of the state’s veteran-employment data: “Information based on voluntary self-disclosure.” I learn from Thomas Leonhardt, a disabled Army veteran and former South Dakota Labor Market Information Center statistician, that this voluntary self-disclosure comes from a tab in the state’s Time Keeping System:
“Are you currently serving or have you served in the military?” Simple enough.
But Mr. Leonhardt tells me that for three years, this number may have been inflated. Leonhardt says that in January 2012, the state sent an e-mail to state employees calling for “veterans” to confirm the “veteran status” by checking the above box:
As we know, there is some contention over the definition of “veteran.” At the time of this e-mail, “veteran” was not equivalent to “serving in the military.” Theoretically, if every employee reading the e-mail followed the state’s definition of “veteran” at the time and thus did not check that box if they did not meet the statutory definition of having served at least 90 days of federalized military duty, the veteran-employee count would have been accurate. But if everyone who had been in the Guards or served a briefer period before discharge had checked that box, the state’s proud veteran-employment count would have been higher than what its own statutory definition would have accepted.
Of course, now that the new, more generous definition of “veteran” created by House Bill 1179 has become law, the question is moot. But let’s watch to see if the Bureau of Human Resources updates its veteran-employee count to include any collection of current and former Guards who now newly qualify as “veterans” in the eyes of the state of South Dakota.