Other Voices: Veterans Affairs, community films and milk for children

Farm Forum

Are Veterans Affairs officials finally listening?

The Save the VA group finally got its meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who listened to their proposal to keep the Hot Springs VA facility open as a national PTSD treatment center.

After the scheduled 45-minute meeting stretched to an hour and a half, members of the Hot Springs group said they were encouraged. ‘‘We were very encouraged by the attention Secretary Shinseki gave to our presentation,’’ said Save the VA spokesman Rich Gross.

The meeting included Gov. Dennis Daugaard and a delegation of senators and representatives from South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. Oglala Sioux tribal president Bryan Brewer recorded a video message expressing opposition to the proposed closure of most VA medical facilities in Hot Springs and relocating them to Rapid City and Fort Meade.

Shinseki has said that he has not made a decision on the Black Hills VA Healthcare System’s reorganization plan.

Save the VA had asked for a meeting with Shinseki in Hot Springs. Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune of South Dakota, John Barasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote to Shinseki last year requesting that the VA secretary tour the Hot Springs VA medical center before making a decision. Shinseki declined the invitation and suggested that Save the VA come to Washington and discuss their proposal with an undersecretary.

Fortunately, Sen. Johnson was able to persuade Shinseki to meet the Hot Springs delegation at his Senate office. Johnson’s membership on the Senate Appropriations Committee may have influenced Shinseki’s cooperation.

It’s not out of the realm to question the VA’s sincerity in listening to alternatives to the VA reorganization plan. Despite Black Hills VA director Steve DiStasio asking for different proposals, he later said he couldn’t negotiate on any changes. To this day, the VA has not provided complete data supporting its reorganization plan.

Despite the VA’s sketchy proposal and obvious lack of cooperation in analyzing its own plan, Shinseki’s willingness to meet with the Save the VA group and hear its detailed proposal is promising.

We still believe that Shinseki needs to come to Hot Springs and see the facilities for himself prior to making a decision that would have far-reaching impacts on how veterans are treated in a three-state region. But at least now he’s listening.

— Rapid City Journal

Film response shows community at its best

It was impressive to see an overflow, standing-room only crowd attending a recent private screening of the historical documentary, ‘‘The Buffalo King,’’ about South Dakota’s own James ‘‘Scotty’’ Philip, one of the figures who helped save the bison from extinction. So many people from the Pierre and Fort Pierre area turned out for the private screening at the State 123 Theatre in Pierre that the theatre arranged two showings to try to accommodate the demand.

That’s good for us on two fronts. First, it means the community values what filmmaker Justin Koehler and his colleagues have done here (including important contributions by area historians such as Ken Stewart, John Duffy and Lonis Wendt and behind-the-scenes work by the likes of Darby Nutter and Brian Scott). For anyone who cares about the buffalo, that symbol of the Great Plains, the Scotty Philip story is not just a South Dakota story — it’s an American story.

Koehler has made a fine film and it’s great to see it so well supported by the local community.

What is even more promising for the future, though, is the prospect of more of this same quality of work. Koehler recently said he would like to make more documentaries about South Dakota history that are relevant to a larger audience. He even tipped his hand about one project he has in mind — a possible film about rodeo great Casey Tibbs, a Fort Pierre native. From the applause and the questions from the audience about how to support his work, it’s clear that area people are already on board.

They should be. As Tom Black, one of the coordinators of the South Dakota Film Festival, suggested at the recent screening, such films are more than artistic works — they’re economic development. People who have the chance to see South Dakota’s best stories told in this format will also want to see South Dakota for themselves as they delve more deeply into why our part of the Great Plains matters to the rest of the country.

Let’s support the artists who want to tell more of our best stories in this way.

— Pierre Capital Journal

Got milk? Not kids in North Dakota

Milk for children in school seems like a good idea. But in North Dakota, a federal program that funded snack-break milk for needy kids won’t be getting help from proudly wealthy North Dakota. House Bill 1421, sponsored by Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, was slapped down with a do-not-pass recommendation in committee on a straight party-line vote, 10-3. The bill also went down on a party-line vote in the House. Republicans put ideology over the welfare and nutrition of families and children.

The feds initially funded the program, but no longer. It’s apparently one of those cuts in federal spending Republicans like — programs that really help people. Boschee’s bill would have appropriated $500,000 to serve about 6,000 children who receive milk with free and reduced-cost lunches, but sit without milk or juices during the snack break, while better-off kids get theirs. The money would have been made available to local school districts, and it is very likely most of them would have taken advantage of it.

Opposition to the bill was really offensive stuff. Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said the state is not funding the program because the feds used to. ‘‘If it’s something they want,’’ he said, ‘‘they should fund it.’’

Does it get any weirder? Here’s a conservative lawmaker who lives comfortably in the anti-federal government camp, yet he would be OK if the deep-in-debt federal government funded a milk-for-kids program, rather than have billion-dollar-surplus North Dakota take care of its own. A contradiction? Hypocrisy?

The rejection in committee of Boschee’s bill was a mean-spirited affront to children and families who might not be as well off as most legislators are. It reveals monumentally skewed priorities. Lawmakers, who just a few days ago fast-tracked hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, won’t find a few thousand dollars to buy milk for children. Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

— Fargo (N.D.) Forum