AURORA | Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan D. Gibson said Wednesday the department will complete the $1.73-billion replacement VA medical center, but it may not be finished by 2017 without further funding.
“We don’t want to go through another last-minute fire drill,” he said to members of the media as part of a visit to the work site to talk with members of Congress about the troubled veterans medical center under construction in Aurora. “If we were able to get to that agreement sooner rather than later, it sends a powerful message to veterans, it sends a powerful message to the subcontractor committee here, and to the community at large.
The VA is asking Congress for $625 million in new funding to complete a scaled-back version of the complex. But many lawmakers are demanding significant changes within the VA in exchange for further funding.
He said the $150 million Congress approved for Aurora’s replacement medical center in June will keep construction going through September, but that he hopes to come up with an agreement with Congress to permanently fund the remainder of the project by the end of this month.
Though disliked by lawmakers, Gibson pointed to a proposal the VA submitted to Congress in June outlining funding options.
That plan would apply across-the-board cuts for the VA’s 2016 budget. The total cuts to the department’s budget would be less than 1 percent, and would come from discretionary accounts that include national cemeteries and medical research.
“There are no easy answers,” he said, pointing to taking money away from future hospital projects around the country and delaying them, as another feasible way to find funding.
He said the longer Congress waits to come up with a solution, the more likely the hospital’s completion date will be pushed past 2017.
He said thanks to the $150 million in funding, 740 workers were on the construction site Wednesday.
“That’s better than none, that’s better than 600. But it’s not 1,200. It’s not 1,400,” he said.
The half-finished medical center is expected to cost up to $1.73 billion, nearly triple the estimate the VA gave last year.
This is the eighth time Gibson has visited the Colorado work site. He said plans to return in August.