Congress to agree to deal on VA hospital in Aurora

1 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A solid solution to Aurora VA hospital fiasco.

Congress has pulled off its final 11th-hour rescue of the new VA hospital in Aurora and while the plan isn’t perfect — this is Congress, after all — it’s a pretty good long-term solution. 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. For one thing, the additional $625 million needed to complete the $1.67 billion facility would come from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ own budget. 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. A Corps of Engineers study blamed the overruns on multiple design changes and a decision by VA officials to use a complicated contract process they didn’t fully understand.

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. Republican leaders were rightly determined that the extra cost of the VA fiasco not simply be foisted onto taxpayers in the form of additional deficit spending. 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. 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.

To be sure, some House members, including the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, still consider a portion of the VA’s plan for the hospital to involve fuzzy math. 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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