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VA Hospital Construction Chief Retires Amid Investigation

In this April 22, 2014 file photo, a man works on a concrete form during construction of a new Veterans Administration hospital in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. RJ SANGOSTI, DENVER POST/AP
In this April 22, 2014 file photo, a man works on a concrete form during construction of a new Veterans Administration hospital in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. RJ SANGOSTI, DENVER POST/AP

DENVER — The top VA official in charge of construction nationwide retired Wednesday amid an internal investigation of delays and massive cost overruns at the Denver veterans hospital, the agency said.

Glenn Haggstrom's departure was immediate, the Department of Veterans Affairs said. In a written statement, the VA said problems at the hospital under construction in the Denver suburb of Aurora were unacceptable.

The VA said last week the new Denver facility would cost $1.73 billion, more than twice the estimated cost at the time the first contracts were awarded in 2010. The department was also under fire for cost overruns and construction delays at veterans hospitals in New Orleans, Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida.

Last year, the department was harshly criticized after whistleblower reports of veterans dying while on appointment schedules at VA hospitals and falsified records to cover up the long wait times.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Haggstrom's departure was welcome news after the problems at the Denver site. "We've called for the VA to hold those responsible for the years of gross mismanagement of the new regional hospital accountable and are glad to see it finally doing so," he said.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said Haggstrom should have been dismissed instead of being allowed to retire.

"What's most disappointing about this situation ... is that Haggstrom left on his own terms — with a lifetime pension — even though any reasonable person would conclude that he should have been fired years ago," Miller, R-Fla., said in a written release.

The VA said it could not relay a request for comment to Haggstrom because he was no longer an employee. No phone listing could be found for him.

Haggstrom, an Air Force veteran, was head of the VA's Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction. He had worked for the VA for more than 6 years.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said Haggstrom's departure was overdue. "He should have been fired years ago, and his ill-gotten bonuses should be rescinded," Coffman said.

The VA paid Haggstrom a total of nearly $54,000 in bonuses between 2009 and 2011.

The department has asked for another $930 million to complete the Denver hospital. Some Colorado lawmakers have said it would take major changes at the VA, including firings, to persuade Congress to approve more money.

Exact comparisons with earlier cost estimates for the Denver hospital are difficult because the VA refused explain how it arrived at the new figure. The project includes multiple contracts for different phases, including clearing the site, remodeling an existing building into a clinic and building the main hospital. Some costs have risen in the years since the first estimates were released.

The New Orleans hospital is expected to cost $995 million and open in early 2016. In 2013, it was expected to cost $625 million and open in late 2014.

Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, said Haggstrom's departure was no surprise. "It's clear that the VA is in complete disarray," he said.

Vitter said he would press the department for assurances that construction of the New Orleans hospital and clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles, Louisiana, would continue.

The House Veterans Committee has said the Las Vegas hospital was $260 million over budget and the Orlando hospital was $362 million over budget. Both of those estimates were from 2013.

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