VA urges lawmakers to save Denver hospital

VA urges lawmakers to save Denver hospital
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The Veterans Affairs Department is warning Congress that construction of a delay-plagued agency hospital near Denver could come to a halt if lawmakers don’t approve more funds before their Memorial Day break.

On Monday, VA Secretary Robert McDonald sent a memo to the leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee requesting a $200 million increase in the funding limit for the facility being built in Aurora, Colo., for a new total of $1 billion.

He predicted that without the additional funds, Kiewit Turner, the effort’s main contractor, would walk away from the project.

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The Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year projected the facility would cost $1.73 billion to build, a figure more than five times the original $328 million price tag.

In his memo, McDonald acknowledged the “inexcusable delays and cost overruns that have plagued” the project, which began more than 10 years ago. However, he warned of more dire consequences if work came to a stop altogether.

“Some subcontractors would likely not return to the project in the future,” McDonald said, possibly “leading to substantial further delays and cost increases.”

The VA said it would fund the new authorization by tapping into $5 billion set aside for construction by Congress in legislation reforming the agency last summer after a months-long scandal over patient wait times.

In a statement, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a harsh critic of the Denver hospital project, said he has been “shuttling back and forth” between meetings with McDonald and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to work out a deal before lawmakers adjourn for the holiday.

On Monday, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) said Congress “needs to act on the proposal put forward today by the VA.”

“Time is running out. We need to finish the damn thing,” he said in a statement.