VA chief rips Congress for ‘inaction’ on Denver hospital

VA chief rips Congress for ‘inaction’ on Denver hospital
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Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is warning lawmakers that, unless they act soon, construction on a delay-plagued VA hospital outside of Denver will come “grinding to a halt.”

“I have provided multiple proposals to the Congressional authorizing committee as to how we can complete this campus for veterans. The options were rejected and the result has been inaction. Our veterans deserve better than that,” McDonald said Wednesday in a statement.

He said that, “without immediate Congressional action prior to returning home for the Memorial Day holiday recess, construction on the Denver Replacement Medical Center in Aurora will shut down Sunday, grinding to a halt as Kiewit Turner demobilizes its team of contractors and sub-contractors.”

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Earlier this week, the agency chief sent a memo to the leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and other lawmakers, asking for a $200 million increase in the funding limit for the facility being built in Aurora, Colo., for a new total of $1 billion.

The authorization for the project, which began more than a decade ago, expires this weekend.

“I have presented a plan. Congress has not proposed a counter plan. I am open to reviewing any proposal that would better serve the veterans of Colorado and the American taxpayers,” McDonald wrote. “If Congressional leaders choose not to support VA’s proposals, or choose to offer feasible solutions of their own, then they will be punishing Colorado veterans today for past VA errors.”

“Let me be clear. Inaction by Congress will punish the nearly 400,000 Colorado veterans and families that Aurora will serve,” he added.

“This shutdown can be avoided. I am confident that Congress can yet act in the best interest of veterans and their families and work with VA to finish Aurora.”

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

The cost has enraged House and Senate lawmakers for months, and a deal seems out of reach, especially after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took to the chamber floor to castigate the agency for not doing more to process benefits claims one year after former VA leader Eric Shinseki resigned over a scandal on patient wait times.

"If only the Veterans Administration did half as good a job of taking care of the bureaucrats as they do our veterans, we'd be in a lot better shape," he said.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who has clashed with McDonald in the past about the stalled VA hospital, lamented that a solution had not been found.

"I am greatly disappointed that the Speaker has not approved a short term increase in order to allow more time for negotiations and avoid a shutdown of the project," Coffman said in a statement.

“Right now Congressional leadership and the VA need to make sure this hospital is completed in order to honor our obligations to our nation’s veterans. I will continue to work with the other members of our congressional delegation to make sure this hospital gets built," he added.