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NBC 9 Denver - Proposal Would Add Supervision to VA Hospital Project

News Article

Date: Feb. 7, 2014
Issues: Veterans

By Brandon Rittiman

Construction is still underway on a the new VA hospital at the Fitzsimmons medical campus in Aurora, though the project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns that have made it the subject of a federal investigation.

While the VA and the lead contractor are in court fighting over it, veterans are coming home from the war on terror the much older facility in Denver that veterans groups say just isn't up to the job.

"This facility was built in the 40's," said Pat Smith, a Vietnam veteran who represents the American Legion. "It was designed to take care of veterans coming out of World War I."

Smith has nothing but praise for the doctors and staff inside the building.

"They're great. They're just really great," Smith said. "The facility itself is not 21st century."

It also gets crowded.

Smith says the new hospital should have been built in time for all the troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The VA bureaucracy I think is responsible for that," Smith said. "They know how to treat veterans, they know how to run a hospital, they're very efficient at it. They just don't know how to build a damn hospital."

"They probably need to get out of the construction business," agreed Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado,) who wrote a bill to put an emergency manager in charge of finishing the new hospital.

"The Army Corps of Engineers will be that third party that will step in that will sort through the arguments on both sides," Coffman said.

The main contractor and the VA are in court, haggling over the cost and changes to the plan.

It's a wide gap to bridge. The contractor thinks the job should pay more than $1 billion because intended modifications to scale back the project were never implemented.

The VA thinks it should be a $600 million job, per the contract that was agreed upon when Congress funded the project.

"If the Army Corps can bring about an agreement, God bless 'em," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado,) whose district used to include the new hospital site before it was redrawn in 2010. "If somebody can knock their heads together, that would be good."

While Perlmutter thinks that some of Coffman's rhetoric is "over the top," he says he can see where Coffman is coming from and doesn't take issue with the policy proposal from Coffman to create more oversight.

Perlmutter does have his doubts that the Corps would be able to solve such a high-dollar dispute.

Coffman thinks getting another agency involved won't slow things down, saying that he trusts the track record of the Corps of Engineers.

At this point, veterans seem ready to try anything that might help.

"Build the damn thing. It's been a long time coming," Smith said. "At my age, hopefully I'm around to see it finished."

Coffman's proposal would also tap the Army Corps of Engineers for emergency management roles on other VA projects that are overbudget and overdue.