DENVER (AP) – The Veterans Affairs Department has told Congress it wants to dip into a $5 billion fund for improving health care to finish the over-budget Denver VA hospital.

Adam Bozzi (BOH’-zee), a spokesman for Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, said Monday the VA wants to transfer $830 million from that fund to finish the hospital.

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Congress allocated the $5 billion for a broad range of improvements in veterans’ access to health care, including hiring more physicians and better efficiencies.

A VA spokesman didn’t immediately return a call.

Bozzi says Bennet believes identifying the money is important but the VA must also show how it will discipline those responsible for the cost overruns.

The Denver hospital is now expected to cost $1.73 billion. Last year, the VA estimated it would cost $630 million.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

The Veterans Affairs Department rejected about $355 million in cost savings suggested by the contractor on the over-budget Denver VA hospital because it considered them unacceptable, according to documents released Monday.

The VA did accept more than $45 million in other cuts suggested by contractor Kiewit-Turner, according to written answers the department submitted to questions from the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the hospital, which is 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 184-bed medical center is under construction in suburban Aurora. It will replace an old, crowded facility in Denver.

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The VA said it rejected cost-cutting suggestions that would have violated standards for design, security or energy efficiency. Some suggestions would have had “serious implications” for the scope of the project, and other ones would have eliminated unspecified backup systems.

Few other details were released.

The department said it did cut many cosmetic elements from the design.

The House veterans panel is demanding the VA explain the cost overruns, fire those responsible and come up with a plan for paying for the complete hospital or a scaled-back version.

The department 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.

Glenn Haggstrom, the top VA official in charge of construction nationwide, retired last month, one day after he was interviewed under oath as part of the investigation, the agency said. Haggstrom didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message Monday.

In its written answers to the veterans committee, the department said the project executive on the Denver hospital was demoted and transferred and a senior engineer and a senior contracting officer were transferred to other jobs. Their names weren’t released.

The VA has said it needs another $830 million to finish the hospital, but it hasn’t submitted a funding plan. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, suggested diverting the department’s multimillion-dollar bonus budget to the Denver project until it’s complete, but VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson called that “a lousy idea.”

– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

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