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Reveille in Hot Springs: The Battle to Save Our VA Paperback – July 16, 2013
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The Amazon Book Review
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From Kirkus Reviews
A series of short testimonies by U.S. military veterans about their treatment at a Hot Springs, S.D., veterans facility. Freelance writer Goulet gathered this collection primarily as a reaction to the U.S. government’s announced decision in December 2011 to close the veterans hospital in Hot Springs and pull the plug on its good works. The shutdown would require veterans to seek help hours away without reimbursement of travel expenses. Government officials have cited economic considerations and the hospital’s outdatedness, but these stories show these reasons as misguided at best. Each of the vignettes is brief—typically five pages or so—but harrowing. Goulet often lets the veterans speak for themselves about their war experiences and their profound aftereffects—mostly alcoholism or some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, including anger issues, insomnia, memory loss, fear of crowds or loud noises, impatience or irritability. The author fashions the veterans’ words into engaging narratives without overpolishing them, giving a rattling, unvarnished rawness to the material. There are more than two dozen stories here from World War II, Korea, the Balkans and one Middle Eastern fiasco after another, as well as additional brief comments from both vets and community members. The veterans, mostly men, tell stories about the distress they’ve lived with for years, and it’s clear that without a close sanctuary such as the Hot Springs facility—which is shown to have had a gentle hand, an easeful pace and a personal touch—many lives would be diminished. “We believe if we don’t stop these closures here and now, then veterans will have no choice but to relocate to urban centers where the focus will be on VA convenience and not on veteran care,” the author writes. Shut the Hot Springs hospital down? Readers may come away from this collection believing that the government should be cloning it in every state. An infuriating, stinging rebuke to politicians who leave returning soldiers to their own devices.
About the Author
Mary Ellen Goulet and her husband retired from Minnesota to the southern Black Hills of South Dakota in 1998 to build an "off-the-grid" solar and wind-powered home. Mary's first book, "A (not so) Simple Life: Our Return to Rustic Roots," is a memoir of her life growing up in Ely, MN and reflections on her new life in South Dakota. Her second book, "Cascade of Flames," tells the story of the Alabaugh Canyon wildfire that destroyed 10,000 acres and thirty-three homes, including the couples' fire-resistant retirement home, through interviews with the firefighters who fought the blaze and other evacuees who lost their homes. You can learn more about Mary, her work and her thoughts about loss and recovery on her blog "Hello, Goodbye, Hello." (maryegoulet.blogspot.com) Check out www.theveteranstown.com
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Mary Ellen Goulet's book "Reveille in Hot Springs" is a compelling, hard-to-put-down look at the lives of many different individuals who share two common threads: that they served in the military, and that they all want to save and protect the over 100-year-old Battle Mountain Sanitarium, a National Historic Landmark located in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Mary Ellen Goulet sat down with dozens of veterans and collected their stories through series of interviews and the book reads somewhat like an oral history novel akin to "The Good War."
A little background: Located in a valley that the Lakota called Minnekahta, or warm waters, Hot Springs, South Dakota has historically been a place for people to heal. The Cheyenne and the Lakota fought several battles over the right to use the mineral springs, with the largest of the conflicts taking place on "Battle Mountain," the looming mountain over the community from which its namesake takes its moniker.
The Hot Springs VA was authorized as part of the original 12 National Soldier's Homes, but it was the only one that was designed for medical treatment of the Civil War veterans who lived there, not just as a home, and it is therefore arguably the first national veterans hospital in the country. For this reason, along with its architecture, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in mid-2011. Following that designation, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a proposal to close the facility, which serves a tri-state region (Northwest Nebraska, Southwest South Dakota and Southeast Wyoming.) The community backlash was intense and immediate as the town formed a "Save the VA" Committee and set about collecting data to refute the VA's claims that the Hot Springs VA had outlived its useful life. That fight ended up in Washington, D.C. with a meeting with Secretary of VA Eric Shinseki in early 2013. The community still awaits a decision.
However, "Reveille in Hot Springs" does not focus on that aspect of the battle and mentions it only in passing, foregoing data and statistics for heart and soul. Reveille focuses on the men and women on the ground level - the veterans themselves entrenched in one last conflict. This is in all actuality better suited, because the drama of each veteran's story is far more interesting. For all their differences: serving in different conflicts, from WWII to OEF/OIF, serving in different branches of the military, age, gender, and so on, there are striking parallels. Anyone with a veteran friend or family member knows the sort of camaraderie that sort of suddenly appears when they meet another veteran, even if they are total strangers.
It is that sort of feeling that Reveille evokes, that feeling of familiarity among strangers. Some of the book's interviewees are more notable than others, even nationally renowned - Bryan Brewer is the current President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the poorest places in America; Dayton O. Hyde, the founder of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, was just recently made the subject of a theatrically released documentary called "Running Wild", but the stories of the others are no less engaging.
For being 236 pages, the book moves at a brisk pace. It's helped in that the veterans' stories are presented as individual chapters, so even if you have to stop reading, you can pick it back up later without feeling like you've lost your place in the overall narrative.
Speaking of that, if I had only one criticism, it would be that that overall narrative is a bit loose. As a collection of stories with a shared common thread, it works, so this is by no means a huge fault, but as I said before, Mary Ellen Goulet's focus is, as it should be, largely on the veterans and their deeply emotional, sometimes inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking stories, not so much the data and statistics, so if you're more interested in the hard numbers, the proposals and counter-proposals, and in-depth information about the facility itself, you should probably check out Save the VA's website.
But that's not really what this book is about. This is a book that can be read and shared by anyone who is or knows a veteran. The individual stories speak to our shared humanity and of shared experiences. In doing so, it spreads the story of the fight to save the Hot Springs VA and the fight to protect all VAs, as this seems to be a nationwide trend. So I highly recommend "Reveille in Hot Springs: The Battle to Save our VA" for anyone interested in war stories, oral histories, human interest stories, or any stories about America's military and small town America.
Mary's interviewing skills and passion for her subjects shine throughout.
It is a must read for anyone who cares about veterans.
You can meet them too! You only have to buy this book and let your Congress Person know that the Hot Springs VA Hospital should NOT be closed! Please do this for them, for Mary, and for our wee small Veteran's Town, with a huge heart!