DENVER (AP) – The Veterans Affairs Department investigation into massive cost overruns at its Denver hospital finally has an outside construction expert – more than seven weeks after the department said it requested the help from the Navy, officials said Thursday.

The Navy said it approved the VA’s request on Tuesday. The Associated Press had reported Tuesday that the VA asked for help in February, but the Navy hadn’t responded.

Navy spokesman Don Rochon didn’t immediately provide an explanation for the delay but confirmed that the Navy received the request in February.

The VA is investigating why the hospital under construction in suburban Aurora is expected to cost $1.73 billion, nearly triple the amount estimated a year earlier. Equipping the hospital and training the staff are expected to cost an additional $340 million, bringing the total to more than $2 billion.

Members of Congress had sharply criticized the VA for not having an outside construction expert on its internal investigation board, saying the probe wouldn’t be thorough or credible without one.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said the addition of the Navy expert was too little, too late. He repeated his call for an outside inquiry.

“The VA’s half-hearted attempt at an investigation is an insult to veterans and taxpayers,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the panel will keep scrutinizing the VA.

“It’s unfortunate that it often takes negative press coverage or congressional scrutiny just to get this administration to take VA’s problems seriously,” Miller said.

The Navy approved the VA’s request to have Joanna Krause, director of the Navy’s Medical Facilities Design Office, join the investigation. The VA has declined to say why it asked for Krause.

The other three members of the investigation board all work for the VA. They are the deputy director of the VA Office of Accountability Review, an employee relations specialist with the Office of Accountability Review and the VA’s regional counsel in Denver.

The VA announced the internal investigation board in January but hasn’t said when it began work. Department spokesman Paul Sherbo said this week that many people have been interviewed under oath, but he declined to identify them or give the exact number.

The VA declined to say Thursday whether Krause has participated in any interviews.

The VA has asked Congress for another $830 million to finish the hospital but faces strong pressure to explain why the cost estimates were so far off and to fire those responsible.

The VA has said its former head of construction retired one day after the internal investigators questioned him under oath, and three other officials have been transferred or demoted, but no one has been fired.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the hospital in Washington last week. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee plans a hearing in Aurora on Friday.

– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

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