At congressional hearing, VA gets an earful over Aurora hospital

Photo: Aurora VA Hospital construction April 2015 2 (AP Photo)
A worker walks at the construction site of the Veterans Affairs hospital Thursday, April 2, 2015, in Aurora, Colo. Veterans Affairs officials are trying to get the overdue, over-budget hospital back on track.

Members of Congress denounced the Department of Veterans Affairs on a variety of fronts regarding the agency's handling of the long-delayed and over-budget new medical center under construction in Aurora.

Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee grilled VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson about problems with oversight, designs, contracting, record-keeping and possible reforms. They criticized the VA for not punishing top executives overseeing the project but firing a whistleblower who in 2011 alerted his superiors about skyrocketing cost overruns.

They cited a Denver Post report that a VA employee was dismissed for allegedly disobeying a supervisor, noting VA's top construction chief retired last month with full benefits amid an internal VA probe of the Aurora project.

Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, asked Gibson if anyone had been fired over the handling of the project, which is now expected to cost more than $1 billion over initial estimate. Gibson said no one had been fired.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, suggested the case should be referred to law enforcement. "I actually think this may be is ripe for criminal review," Rice said.

Gibson said there has been "absolutely no evidence of criminal wrongdoing uncovered" regarding the project. Rice asked which investigators, to which Gibson replied those working for VA.

"The VA is not a general contractor, and they're not a law enforcement agency," Rice said.

Cost estimates released last month by VA put the price tag on the project at $1.73 billion.