GOP chairman rips VA's Denver hospital plan

GOP chairman rips VA's Denver hospital plan
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House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) on Thursday trashed a VA plan to fund ongoing construction of an agency hospital in a Denver suburb, saying the department needs to “go back to the drawing board.”

“VA created the mess in Denver, so the department must come up with a plan to fix it that does not add to the deficit and does not jeopardize the benefits and services of other veterans,” Miller said in a letter to Secretary Robert McDonald. “The plan must fund the project through its completion — rather than keep it running on fumes for a few months until the next budgetary crisis.”

The letter comes the day after McDonald issued a statement chastising Congress for not approving a plan for a $200 million increase in the funding limit for the facility being built in Aurora, Colo., for a new total of $1 billion.

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The VA intended to cover the cost by tapping some of the construction funds set aside in the more than $16 billion agency overhaul legislation that Congress approved last year.

McDonald warned that, without action, work on the replacement hospital would come “grinding to a halt.”

Miller rejected that the current crisis was the fault of Congress.

“Let me assure you that the opposite is true,” he told McDonald. “This project will come to a halt if VA refuses to put forth a complete and acceptable plan to get the Denver project to the finish line. So far, you have failed to do that.”

He rattled off a list of six reasons why the agency was at fault, placing special emphasis on a recent Army Corps of Engineers estimate that the facility will ultimately cost $1.73 billion to build, five times its original $328 million price tag, and that no VA executives have been fired over the project, which is more than a decade over schedule.

“I understand this is likely not the message you were hoping to hear, but I think it is the message you need to hear,” according to Miller.

“With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, go back to the drawing board,” he added, urging McDonald to come with a “deficit neutral way” to complete the facility’s construction.

House VA ranking member Corrine BrownCorrine BrownFormer Florida rep sentenced to five years in prison for fraud, tax evasion Genuine veteran charities face a challenge beating the fakes Former Florida rep found guilty of tax evasion, fraud MORE (D-Fla.) chided Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems charge ahead on immigration Nancy Pelosi had disastrous first 100 days as Speaker of the House Blockchain could spark renaissance economy MORE (Ohio) and other Republicans for not coming up with a solution, calling their inaction “irresponsible and heartless.”

"The problems with the Denver facility did not pop up overnight.  In fact, this project has been fraught with issues and politics for over a decade, and several VA Secretaries have been involved — from both parties,” she said Thursday in a statement.

“We cannot in good conscience put the Denver facility on the back burner. Certainly, the situation we find ourselves in is not the fault of the veterans who are served by the Denver facility, and they deserve better than this,” according to Brown.