Coffman drafting legislation to complete construction of VA hospital

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Photo: VA aerial view
An aerial view of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital being built in Aurora.

Congressman Mike Coffman says he will introduce legislation to ensure that a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora is completed.

A draft of the legislation is not yet available, but Coffman says it could call for an investigation amid rising construction costs. It could also seek to bar the VA from further construction.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is poised to take over the hospital's construction, but roughly $1 billion is needed to complete the hospital, according to the Corps of Engineers. That brings the entire price tag to $1.73 billion -- more than five times the original estimate in 2004. The figure that has shocked many in Colorado's congressional delegation, including Coffman, a Republican. The hospital is in Colorado's 6th Congressional District, which is Coffman's. Coffman is also chairman of the House subcommittee responsible for VA oversight.

The hospital was supposed to be completed more than a year ago. Several buildings are partly complete, but it is unclear when the hospital will be finished.

Coffman says an option is to seek funds to finish the hospital from Congress.

"To ask for an extra $1 billion for a single hospital that... in terms of cost overruns, that shouldn't even cost anything close to a billion dollars -- I think that's going to be challenging," Coffman said. "We've got to be able to sell the Congress on, 'This is never going to happen again.'"

Another option, Coffman says, is to seek the money from the VA, but that could delay some other VA construction projects.

Colorado's two U.S. senators and all but one member of its House delegation issued a statement last week voicing a "commitment to working together on behalf of our veterans to ensure the regional medical facility is completed."

Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican from Northern Colorado, did not join in that statement.

His spokeswoman, Katherine Rosario, instead directed CPR News to a statement Buck made to The Associated Press: “I’m not willing to spend one more dime until we hold people responsible for this outrageous error, that we find reforms at the VA and we do everything we can to reduce that number of $1.7 billion,” Buck said.

The estimated costs of the hospital have risen in increments of millions of dollars over the years. In 2013, the Government Accountability Office noted "costs substantially increased and schedules were delayed" for several large hospital projects around the country, including the one in Aurora.

The project will replace the VA Medical Center in Denver with expanded inpatient and outpatient services, a community living center, a spinal cord injury/diagnostic unit, and research facilities.

The VA declined to speak with CPR News, but issued a statement saying that it is "formulating a proposal that will be sent to Congress in the near future."

The VA added: "While construction continues for the replacement hospital, Veterans in Denver can still access high quality health care at the Denver VA Medical Center and at clinics throughout Colorado."