HOT SRINGS, S.D. (AP) – Confederate flags are flying again at a southwestern South Dakota veterans hospital, upsetting two patients who first complained about the flags and then said officials allowed them to complete a hospital program early.
The two flags were removed from historical displays at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Hot Springs a week earlier after some patients said they were symbolic of racism.
The flags were returned to the displays April 24 as “a reflection of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for America,” VA Black Hills Health System Director Steve DiStasio told the Rapid City Journal newspaper.
“The original purpose of the VA’s Hot Springs facility was for the care of Civil War veterans,” he said. “Out of respect for all of our nation’s veterans, from every battle in history, we will maintain the historic Freedom Shrine [display] in its entirety.”
Craig DeMouchette, a veteran of Desert Storm in Iraq, said he understands the historical value of the flags but still objects to their display.
“These flags belong in a museum, not an active government building that treats veterans, some of them African American,” he said.
DeMouchette, of Denver, and fellow veteran Kameron Mitchell, of Lincoln, Neb., said that a few days after they raised the flag issue, they were told by VA officials that they could leave their treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder more than two weeks early, with full credit.
They contend the offer was intended to get rid of them and defuse the flag controversy. VA officials declined to respond to that assertion.
VA Black Hills Health System spokeswoman Jill Broecher said officials couldn’t discuss individual veterans or their treatment.
“Our first priority is always to maintain the privacy of our veterans,” she said.
DeMouchette said he has contacted a member of Colorado’s congressional delegation for help in once again getting the flags removed.