HOT SPRINGS, S.D. (AP) — Veterans Affairs officials have once again removed two Confederate flags from a display at a Veterans Affairs hospital in the southwestern South Dakota city of Hot Springs, and the agency says the move is permanent this time.

The flags were removed from an eight-flag historical display last month after two black veterans who were receiving treatment at the hospital said they viewed the flags as offensive symbols of racism. The flags were put back a few days later — after the two veterans said they had been allowed to complete a hospital program more than two weeks early, with full credit.

VA Black Hills Health System Director Steve DiStasio said at the time that the flags were returned to the display because of their historical significance. The VA declined to comment on the two veterans’ comments that they had been allowed to complete the treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder early to defuse the controversy. The VA cited policy barring the agency from discussing individual veterans and their treatment.

The return of the flags angered some veterans, though others supported the move. U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said he was disappointed the flags were returned to the display.

Janet Murphy, director in Minneapolis of the VA Midwest Health Care Network, issued a statement Wednesday saying the flags were being removed again.

“To ensure the Hot Springs VA Medical Center is a place of healing for all Veterans, the Confederate flags will be removed from the Freedom Shrine display, located in the rotunda of the main building,” she said. “This action is consistent with continued accomplishment of the medical center’s core mission, which is to provide quality health care services to veterans.

“We thank everyone for their interest and concern for our veterans and apologize to anyone offended by the display,” Murphy said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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