SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, who is from Minnesota, says he knows there are problems impacting South Dakota veterans, from outdated data to a shortage of health care professionals.

He visited Sioux Falls Wednesday at the invitation of Senator Mike Rounds.

Veterans and Members of the American Federation of Government Employees Union protesed in Spellerberg park along 22nd street Wednesday morning.

They are concerned about a plan that would turn the Sioux Falls VA emergency room into urgent care and force veterans to rely on for-profit, private care outside the VA.

“We want everybody to know that we want to save our VA, we don’t want to privatize it we feel that we can give the best care anywhere to our veterans,” Sandra Gunderson, President AFGE, said.

“They are talking about closing down our emergency room and for us veterans on the eastern side of the state this is a huge deal for us it kind of the easy button to know where you gotta go especially for our older veterans,” U.S. Veteran George Arends said.

George Arends, Flanked by Larry Loveland on the left and Ken Steinberg on the right, are all veterans representing the Army, Air Force and Navy.

They are not fans of a move to privatize veterans health care and send them to Avera, Sanford or Monument Health.

“They can go to other places but to get it approved from the VA it’s a huge paper trail,” Arends said.

Navigating the federal process with all it rules, regulations and red tape can be a nightmare.

We asked Secretary Denis McDonough if there were any plans to make it easier for veterans if they were forced to get care outside the VA.

“We are implementing a very aggressive plan with the leadership at the facility, doing a good job of holding ourselves to account against established metrics, recognizing that behind every metric is a veteran who needs timely access to world-class care,” McDonough said.

There is some possible good news when it to comes to closing the emergency department at the V.A.

Mcdonough says information used to make that determination was pre-pandemic and outdated.

He says it was something he spotted right away when he took over last year. So, they will update the information and take another look.