AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– After years of delays and more than a billion dollars over budget, Rep. Mike Coffman believes he has a reason to suspect corruption with the VA hospital in Aurora.
“I’m shocked that as a member of Congress I was consistently lied to when I tried to get the facts,” said Coffman, a Republican representing Aurora.
Last year the head of construction for the VA, Glenn Haggstrom, told Coffman, under oath, that the hospital was on budget and on schedule. This, despite a letter by a senior manager a year earlier stating the design exceeded cost estimates by $200 million.
The VA said last month the new Denver facility would cost $1.73 billion, more than twice the estimated cost at the time the first contracts were awarded in 2010.
“I don’t know how to get these cost overruns without people lining their own pockets,” said Coffman. “We need the kind of investigation outside the VA, that will lead to criminal prosecution.”
Coffman is asking Congress to authorize that investigation, bar the VA from ever managing a major construction project again and use $900 million in bonuses for VA employees to pay for cost overruns.
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Haggstrom, who Coffman says lied to him, received $64,000 in bonuses before he retired last week. Haggstrom, an Air Force veteran, was head of the VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction. He had worked for the VA for more than 6 years.
“We need to send a message to the Veterans Administration that they need to clean up their act. What better way to do it than suspend bonuses until the hospital is finished?” asked Coffman.
The new projected finish date for the VA Hospital at the Anschutz Medical Center campus in Aurora is 2½ years away if Coffman can get the funding. It’s not a guarantee because Coffman says some members of Congress want to walk away from the project.
“This will be a monument to the failures of the Veterans Administration, if abandoned,” said Coffman. “We have an obligation to honor the sacrifices that the men and women who served this country who have earned state of the art care this hospital should provide.”
The only other options to finish the hospital are to increase spending which increases the deficit or take money the VA has earmarked for other projects around the country, about $2 million, and divert it to this project.