HOT SPRINGS – The announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs last December to close the Hot Springs VA created a sense of unity within the community of Hot Springs, likely never seen before.
Immediately following the VA’s announced plan, hundreds of community members came together to form committees, organize rallies and begin work to create a counterproposal to ensure the Hot Springs VA would continue to serve veterans in what has commonly been known as “The Veterans Town” for more than a century.
A key player in this united effort is 2007 Hot Springs High School graduate Justin Gausman, who is currently working on producing a full-length documentary about how his hometown has united to protect and save its 105-year-old VA Hospital.
Gausman first became involved with the Save the VA Campaign as a member of the Public Relations Committee after moving back to Hot Springs from Rapid City this past winter. Some of his early contributions to the effort were his creation of the campaign’s official Facebook page and subsequent documenting and filming of the “Veterans Welcome Home Ride” held on Feb. 25.
He said the idea for creating a full-length documentary of the town’s fight came about during an early PR Committee meeting when local writer Mary Goulet spoke of writing a book featuring testimonials from veterans who had been treated at the Hot Springs VA. Gausman said Goulet immediately supported his idea to also create a similar-based documentary.
Gausman, with the assistance of local photographer and videographer John Davis, began working on the film late this past winter, during the “Vets Ride” in February by producing segments that have already been shown publicly at various Save the VA events and on-line through YouTube.
Karen Meston, another active member of the Save the VA Campaign, said Gausman’s work thus far on the campaign has been instrumental in bringing the message to the masses.
“Justin’s documenting of the Save the VA efforts has been really beneficial to those people who have not been able to attend many of the events we have hosted,” she said. “His work on Facebook and through YouTube makes it available to so many more people. He has been a great to work with – when he says he is going to do something, he does it. He understands the mission, and that it’s all about The Veteran.”
Despite the importance of all his work to date, Gausman said his previously filmed segments represent only the beginning of what he has planned for his full-length documentary.
“I want to be able to capture the emotion of the community and the veterans that have been treated at the VA – the anger and the joy,” Gausman said. “It’s about how a community has come together; against all odds.”
“We’ve accomplished something here that you won’t find anywhere, including Washington D.C.,” he said. “People are working together on this now who before hadn’t even wanted to talk to one another.”
While he said he plans to take an objective look at the VA’s proposal, and that of the campaign’s counter-proposal, there’s no denying the sense of pride he feels for what his hometown of Hot Springs has accomplished thus far during the process.
“The town is up against a VA director who seemingly has made up his mind,” he added. “But I am going to look at this objectively. They came up with a plan that they thought would help our veterans. But it doesn’t. We have a better way.”
As Gausman has discovered, the production of a full-length documentary is no small task, and the funds to accomplish such an undertaking are vast.
This is why he has enrolled his film project with the website indiegogo.com, which according to the site itself, is “a crowdfunding platform where people who want to raise money can create fundraising campaigns to tell their story and get the word out.”
Much like the similar-based website Kickstarter.com, which recently assisted another local filmmaker Skye Ogilvie with her film ‘Drifter’, the website indiegogo.com matches up donors with worthwhile causes in a near endless list of categories from film, health, music, education and more.
Gausman has set a modest campaign goal of $15,000, which he says is really a shoestring budget for what is needed to produce, film and edit a quality documentary. But he is determined to make it a reality, regardless of how much is raised.
“I have been working on this documentary for nearly eight months now and have invested hundreds of hours and dollars into it,” he said. “But I need a real kickstart so I can execute my ideas properly, which include travelling to areas in which others VA’s have closed, such as Grand Island, Neb., and Miles City, Mont., to get the stories from veterans and former staff impacted by those closures.”
Gausman said he is currently using a borrowed camera, so in addition to funds for travel, he also needs to upgrade and acquire equipment to complete the project.
Just a few days into his www.indiegogo.com/theveteranstown campaign last week, the website had helped Gausman raise $135 towards his goal.
The campaign is set to conclude on Aug. 7 so there is still plenty of time for those interested in supporting the film to log-on and contribute what they can to his efforts.