Washington, DC) – Today, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)—ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs—demanded that VA find funds to finish the Denver medical facility's horrendous $1 billion overrun without sacrificing or shortchanging other veterans' health care. The Senator vehemently opposed indefinite delays in other construction projects, including at the primary care upgrade at the West Haven Hospital.
The Senator further reinforced his objection to a proposal from VA to use money from a one-time $5 billion fund— to strengthen VA's internal capacity from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2015—to pay for the remaining costs of the Denver VA Hospital. Those funds were originally approved by Congress to address the issue of unacceptable patient wait-times in order to improve access to patient care within the VA by increasing clinician staffing and improving medical facilities.
"These funds were very specifically designated and intended by Congress to improve veterans health care,” the Senator said. "Veterans in my state who are aware of this proposal are outraged that their health care, specifically primary care at the West Haven facility, would be indefinitely deferred because of $1 billion cost overruns in Aurora, CO. I suspect the same reaction will be felt by veterans at the more than 220 other facilities whose health care will be compromised as a result of the proposed redesignation of these funds. I would like assurance from you, Secretary Gibson, since we’re talking about one-fifth of all the funds in that $5 billion pot, that you are considering alternatives to that action.
"For me, that alternative is a non-starter. It’s unacceptable, and I’ve expressed that view to appropriate administration officials. I am urging you to consider alternatives. There are responsible and available alternatives that do not involve deferring health care improvements through construction and maintenance at those facilities throughout the country. I’m not asking you to find $1 billion on the sidelines somewhere, but this nation is capable of doing better. A supplemental appropriation, for example, might be a better solution. I’m asking you to go back to the drawing board to find different alternatives to compensate for the absolutely unacceptable cost overruns and delays in Aurora. The project should be completed, but not at the sacrifice of health care for other veterans around the country.
"I have seen that vast, hulking shell of a campus that is a mockery of government contracting. We need to address this situation to complete the project, but it cannot be done at the sacrifice of other veterans."
On Tuesday, March 17, 2015, the VA announced that the latest cost estimates for the medical center project, developed in consultation with the Army Corps of Engineers, had reached $1.73 billion, more than $1 billion over the project’s original budget.
You can view Senator Blumenthal’s full opening remarks from the hearing here.
Full video of the Senator’s Q/A with Deputy Secretary Gibson is available here.