Coffman offers bill to right VA hospital some say is off track


AURORA | U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., introduced legislation last week he said will rein in costs and speed up construction at the veterans hospital in Aurora.

The legislation would require an emergency manager from the Army Corps of Engineers be appointed to provide oversight for all existing VA major medical facility projects under construction.

“There is simply no excuse for the VA’s construction delays and cost overruns in building these hospitals, which are for taking care of our nation’s veterans,” said Coffman, a Marine veteran, in a statement.

The proposal stems from a 2013 Government Accountability Office report that surveyed four major VA regional hospital projects in the U.S. The GAO testified before Coffman, who is chairman of a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee, that delays in major medical center projects in Aurora, Orlando, Las Vegas, and New Orleans are, on average, 35 months behind schedule and $336 million over budget.

The proposal, HR 3593, would implement all recommendations from the GAO’s report, which include assigning medical equipment planners to future VA hospital construction projects, and streamlining the change-order process. The report found the VA’s change-order process it uses to adjust construction contracts to be a large factor in the delays.

The report shows Aurora’s VA hospital cost increase of 144 percent to be the largest of any of the four hospitals surveyed. The project was initially estimated to cost $328 million and be completed by December of this year, but has increased to $800 million and is expected to open by 2015.

The VA declined to comment on the issue. In a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs last November, the VA said it had taken steps to implement suggestions from the 2013 GAO report, including adding medical planners to major construction projects, hiring additional attorneys to handle legal issues, and hiring more engineers to speed up the change-order process.

“Unfortunately, even after numerous Congressional hearings and inquiries, the VA has done little to convince us they can meet any of their goals on time,” Coffman said in a joint statement with Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Arizona, who is co-sponsoring the bill.