Congress agrees to deal to fund VA hospital in Aurora

1 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Congress Moving Toward Deal To Finish VA Hospital.

DENVER (AP) — Congress approved a deal on Wednesday to let the Veterans Affairs Department complete a vastly over-budget medical center outside Denver, ending months of uncertainty about the future of the ambitious project. WASHINGTON —A last-minute fight over funding for a VA hospital in Aurora was settled peacefully Wednesday and now Colorado lawmakers say Congress is ready to fully pay for construction of the $1.675 billion facility. The VA can now shift the $625 million it needs to finish the hospital from elsewhere within its budget after a series of votes on Wednesday in the House and Senate.

But the deal strips the department of the authority to manage big construction projects in the future and gives it to the Army Corps of Engineers — a change that angry lawmakers demanded to avoid a repeat. “It’s hard for me to tell you how happy I am,” said Steve Rylant, a member of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, a coalition of groups that pressed to complete the project. “I just want to go outside and jump up and down.” The half-finished hospital in the Denver suburb of Aurora is expected to cost nearly $1.7 billion, almost triple last year’s estimate. The deal probably won’t require the VA to take $200 million of the money from its employee bonus budget, as House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller proposed, Coffman said.

Ed Perlmutter said construction had been mismanaged but needed to be finished. “I am pleased Congress is finally doing its part to finish this project,” he said in a written statement. “It’s flat-out depressing to be in there,” Bozella said. The corps also said the VA also used a complicated contract process that department officials didn’t understand, and that they adopted it too late in the process, leading to disputes and conflicting cost estimates. Under pressure from Colorado lawmakers and Republican leadership, however, Miller relented and in a floor speech Wednesday he said he would reluctantly support the Senate bill. In his speech, Miller railed against a lack of accountability at the VA and an agency culture that has allowed officials to spend millions of dollars for artwork and conferences with little repercussion for the gross mismanagement of the Aurora facility. “The (House veterans) committee recently found that the Palo Alto VA health care system has spent at least $6.3 million on art — on art and consulting services,” he said. “These projects include an art installation on the side of a parking garage that displays quotes by Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt in — wait for it — in Morse code that cost $285,000. It actually lights up.” Miller’s frustration is shared by Colorado’s congressional delegation, but lawmakers from the state said veterans in the Rocky Mountain region need the facility now to deal with growing demand. “There is no doubt the VA mismanaged this project from the start.

But congressional aides said Miller gave up the fight after he realized his proposal was dead-on-arrival in the upper chamber — and after he was told that the VA would take a look at his ideas to route money to the Aurora project from less-essential parts of the agency.

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