Lawmakers reach temporary fix on Denver VA hospital

Lawmakers reach temporary fix on Denver VA hospital
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House lawmakers struck a deal Thursday that will allow the construction of a delay-plagued Veterans Affairs hospital in Colorado to continue.

The three-week extension, introduced by Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard Coffman20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Denver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Colo.) and passed by unanimous consent, raises the $800 million authorization cap for the 184-bed replacement facility in Aurora, Colo., to $900 million.

“Since VA leaders are clearly not willing to step up, the House is stepping in and allowing the project to go forward in the short-term using resources the VA already has," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

"Now the VA must lay out a long-term plan for completing the hospital responsibly using existing resources. This is more than fair."

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The project, which began more than a decade ago and was recently estimated to cost five times its original price tag, would have run out of money Sunday if lawmakers had not moved to lift the spending ceiling. 

The deal also codifies into law a change to last year’s $16 billion VA overhaul bill that allowed patients to receive private healthcare if they are unable to schedule an appointment at a VA clinic within 40 miles of their home within 30 days.

Previously, the 40-mile distance was calculated by a straight line, or “as the crow flies.” But in many cases, the clinics where veterans sought care turned out to be farther than 40 miles away by driving distance.

Under Thursday’s agreement, the 40-mile limit will be defined by driving distance, a change the VA endorsed last month.

The deal caps a week of furious lobbying by VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who issued a statement on Wednesday blasting lawmakers for their “inaction” — a charge that prompted a sharp rebuke from House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).

“I am greatly relieved that we will have more time to negotiate a longer term deal for the Aurora VA hospital,” Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran and chairman of the House VA Oversight and Investigations subpanel, said in a statement.

“The VA ignored my warnings for two years that the Aurora hospital was out-of-control and their refusal to heed my warnings has made a bad situation much worse,” he added. “This should never have come to this, but as I have continually said, my first priority has always been to get this hospital built so it can serve the men and women who served this nation.”

Secretary McDonald said the agency would work to complete the project.

"I look forward to working with Congress in the coming weeks to determine a path forward to finishing the campus," he said Thursday.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) also welcomed the news.

“A project shutdown would cost taxpayers millions of dollars while continuing to delay the completion of this critical, needed facility,” he said in a statement. 

In a statement, Miller struck a more cautious tone.

"This is by no means a solution to the problems in Denver, which VA leaders created and are refusing to take responsibility for," he said. "Rather it is a last-chance effort to convince VA and Obama administration leaders to take the department’s problems seriously."

- Updated at 4:51 p.m.