DENVER (AP/CBS4) – U.S. Veterans Affairs sent its second-in-command to Colorado on Thursday as it tried to get its overdue, over-budget hospital in Denver back on track.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson was scheduled to meet with contractors and subcontractors on the project, which is now about $1 billion over budget. The latest cost estimate is $1.73 billion. As recently as last year, VA officials told Congress it would cost $630 million, said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo.

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The 184-bed medical center in suburban Aurora will replace an old, crowded facility in Denver.

“I’m going to ask you to look back here and then after you have an opportunity to tour the project, ask yourself, is the federal government going to leave this incomplete? Is the federal government going to leave Colorado veterans driving past this facility day in and day out, unfinished? The answer is no. This project is going to be finished,” said Gibson.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson (credit: CBS)

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson (credit: CBS)

The VA’s top construction executive, Glenn Haggstrom, resigned last week amid an investigation into what went wrong, the agency said. Haggstrom has no listed phone number and could not be reached for comment.

Veterans hospitals in New Orleans, Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida, have also encountered cost overruns and construction delays. The VA has been under intensifying pressure from Congress to explain what went wrong and fix the problems.

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Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said Haggstrom should have been fired instead of being allowed to retire. Others members of Congress have said the same.

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Miller’s committee has scheduled a hearing about the Denver hospital for April 15 in Washington.

Gibson told members of Congress last month that the VA needs another $830 million to finish the project.

Coffman and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, want to cancel the VA’s multimillion-dollar employee bonus program and put the money into the hospital. The agency planned to award $360 million in bonuses this year. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colorado, said he supports the idea.

The VA Hospital under construction in Aurora (credit: CBS)

The VA Hospital under construction in Aurora (credit: CBS)

“We have as members of Congress, our work cut out for us, in finding $800 million plus, to finish this hospital but we will do it. Our delegation is very committed and very much in sync to get this finished,” said Perlmutter.

Coffman also wants to strip the VA of the authority to manage large medical-care construction projects and turn them over to the Army Corps of Engineers.

– With contributions by Dan Elliott, AP Writer

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