Congress urged to approve more money for Denver VA hospital

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DENVER (AP) — Colorado's congressional delegation asked the U.S. House and Senate on Wednesday to raise the spending limit on Denver's new veterans hospital from $800 million to $1.1 billion so the troubled project can be completed.

That's only the first step toward getting the money, said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., one of the sponsors of the legislation. Congress would still have to approve the funding.

The project was originally expected to cost about $600 million and has suffered huge cost overruns and delays.

The Department of Veterans Affairs could run out of money in June unless more is approved, Coffman said.

"The Veterans Administration did a horrible job on this," he said. "There were hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, and the project is years behind schedule. But at the same time, we have an obligation to give our veterans the health care they deserve."

The contractor, Kiewit-Turner, stopped construction in December after a federal appeals board said the VA breached its contract by insisting on a design that couldn't be built for $600 million.

Work resumed under an interim contract after the VA enlisted the Army Corps of Engineers as project advisers. A longer-term contract is under negotiation.

The VA has said it would investigate possible misconduct or mismanagement in the project. The agency also asked the Corps of Engineers to review the VA's overall handling of big projects.

Coffman said he plans to introduce a bill to strip the VA of the power to manage construction and move the authority to the Corps of Engineers.

The 184-bed hospital being built in suburban Aurora will replace an old facility in Denver and include a traumatic brain-injury center, nursing care and other clinics.

The VA's most recent projection said the hospital is expected to be complete in 2016. Coffman said the contractors foresee it taking until 2017.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and all the other members of Colorado's House delegation are co-sponsors of the bill.


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