VA Sends Congress Plan To Finish Beleaguered 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.

After weeks of badgering from Congress and as a temporary funding measure was set to run out, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a plan Friday to fully fund its hospital under construction in Aurora.

The VA had needed $830 million to finish the project, which has run overbudget for years. The new plan cuts a community living center and a PTSD rehabilitation program from the project, lowering costs by $55 million. The agency also found $150 million in its internal budget to reallocate to the project for short-term cash flow needs, leaving a funding gap of $625 million.

The plan presents Congress with two options to reach the finish line. The first would use money from future VA construction projects to fund the Aurora hospital. The second, which the VA favors, would require an additional appropriation from Congress. In exchange, the VA would accept an across-the-board percentage reduction to all its discretionary programs.

"I respectfully request that Congress take action to allow us to move forward so that construction on the Denver Replacement Medical Center in Aurora does not shut down later this month," Secretary Bob McDonald wrote in his letter to Congress.

The project's estimated cost is $1.73 billion. It isn't expected to be completed until 2017.

Steven Rylant, president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, called the plan a "step forward."

“I’m an optimist, so I believe that this is going to get completed," he said. "I don’t believe that this will be a hospital to nowhere.”

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet promised to take a look at the plan. In a statement, he said that "we need to find a quick path to agreement" to finish the project and that "this hospital must be completed for our veterans."

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat, whose former district included the construction site, said in a statement, "from what I've read it's a serious proposal." Perlmutter also called on the VA's McDonald and House Speaker John Boehner to "get in a room and negotiate a deal."

Ralph Bozella, a longtime Colorado veterans advocate, said it's too soon to tell if the new plan represented a true breakthrough.

“If this next coming week, if they go through and they are able to negotiate a deal, a deal that’s acceptable to the Congressmen who actually vote, and the Senators who actually vote and this thing passes, that will have been the turning point to that completion, the finish of this medical center,” said Bozella.

CPR's Nathaniel Minor and John Daley contributed to this report.