More questions for VA over troubled Aurora hospital; Coffman says department should 'clean house'

DENVER – Government auditors raised concerns about the hundreds of millions of dollars that will have to be spent before the new Aurora VA facility can open as Rep. Mike Coffman blasted Veterans Affairs and said people should lose their jobs.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee met Wednesday morning to discuss the over-budget and behind-schedule hospital, which was supposed to have opened years ago but has been plagued by a slew of problems.

Andrew Von Ah of the U.S. Government Accountability Office told VA officials that the department ignored best practices when it put together a $341 million estimate for new furniture and equipment to finalize the center for its opening, which is slated for Aug. 11.

But despite being $1 billion over budget already, VA officials said the estimate, which was released last year, was still accurate.

Stella Fiotes, the acting principal executive director of the VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction said that Kiewit-Turner has completed 98 percent of its work and that 11 of the 12 structures at the new hospital are ready for their “activation” steps.

And she admitted that the VA has already decided to make major changes to future projects after the Aurora VA debacle.

“I think we can all agree the design was probably more complex than it needed to be....We have learned much from this design that we would not replicate in any future designs,” Fiotes said. “I believe a more-compact design would have resulted in a more-efficient, functional hospital and probably at a lesser cost.”

There are concerns that the new facility will have just more than half the number of outpatient exam rooms that the current Denver facility has, which Fiotes said stemmed partially from design requirements that “have evolved over time.”

“That probably is part of the reason the capacities are smaller right now,” she said.

Lloyd Caldwell, the Director of Military Programs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that contractors were being eyed to address nearly 375 fixes that will additionally need to be made before the hospital can open to see patients.

“We’re in the process of developing that cost estimate, but I can tell you we think it’s between $5 and $10 million for that contact, but it will not delay the opening of the facility.”

Fiotes said she believed the VA would have “a better understanding” of when the Denver facility that the Aurora campus will replace will be able to close “in the next six to 12 months.” Coffman has estimated the Denver facility might have to remain open at least three additional years to keep PTSD treatments intact, which will cost millions of dollars, and documents obtained by The Denver Post show the existing hospital is already understaffed by at least 600 people.

“This is a project that none of us want to have happen ever again,” Fiotes said.

But Coffman was noticeably unhappy with the situation regarding the VA hospital in his home district. He on different occasions said that “the VA has not changed”; questioned Fiotes’ explanations and asked why some of the new revelations were so recently coming to light with the hospital’s opening so quickly approaching.

Coffman said he was seeing “the same bureaucratic incompetence and cultural corruption” he’s spoken out against over the new hospital’s saga, and called for heads to roll.

“I will ask [VA Secretary] Dr. [David] Shulkin and ask the president to clean house, and that’s what he should have done from day one.”

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