DENVER (AP) – The chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee said Tuesday the VA could consider selling or scaling back the over-budget Denver veterans hospital in order to get it finished.
Rep. Jeff Miller warned that Congress would not authorize any more money for the project until the Veterans Affairs Department begins taking it seriously – something the department hasn’t yet done, Miller said.
VA spokesman Paul Sherbo said the department is committed to finishing the hospital as planned and is working with members of Congress on its proposal.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also said the hospital should be completed as planned.
Miller didn’t say whether his suggestion of selling the facility would include a plan to lease it back to the VA.
The hospital in suburban Denver is now expected to cost $1.73 billion and be complete in 2017. Last year, the VA estimated it would cost $630 million and be finished this year.
The department says it needs another $830 million to finish.
In a written statement, Miller, a Florida Republican, said the VA could propose finishing the hospital as planned if it comes up with suggestions to pay for it. “But if VA is waiting for a taxpayer-funded bailout, it’s going to be waiting a long time,” he said.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also said the VA should look for ways to fund the complete hospital and submit a detailed plan on how the additional money would be spent. The department has refused to provide specifics on how it arrived at the $1.73 billion estimate.
The VA has blamed the cost overruns on problems in the design process. An internal investigation is underway, and the department said it could be complete this month.
Miller is pressuring the department to fire those responsible for the overruns. His committee plans a hearing April 15 in Washington.
Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., have said they plan to ask Congress to divert the VA’s multimillion-dollar bonus budget to the Denver hospital until it’s finished. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, has endorsed that plan.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson dismissed that last week as “a lousy idea,” saying it would punish employees, including veterans, who weren’t responsible for the overruns.
The 184-bed hospital is about half finished. It will replace an old, crowded facility in Denver.
– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer
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