DENVER — The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans committees said Thursday the future of an over-budget VA hospital under construction in Denver is unclear because the Veterans Affairs Department hasn't come up with an acceptable plan for funding it.
Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida also criticized the VA for not punishing those responsible for the overrun.
The rare joint statement shows how unhappy Congress is with the project and with the VA's response.
The hospital is expected to cost more than $1.7 billion, nearly triple an estimate the VA gave last year. Medical equipment, furniture and staff training will cost an additional $340 million, the VA has said.
The new facility in suburban Aurora will replace an aging and crowded hospital in Denver.
During a hearing in Colorado last month, Isakson said it "would be a stupid mistake" not to finish the hospital, but his joint statement with Miller contained a warning.
"Because of a near complete and total lack of focus on the project at the highest levels of VA and the department's disregard for congressional oversight, the future of the Denver replacement hospital is unclear," they said.
Three members of Colorado's congressional delegation said they were also unhappy with the VA's response but that the hospital must be finished. The statement was released by Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Mike Coffman, both Republicans.
Two Democratic members the delegation, Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, accused Isakson and Miller of delaying a resolution.
"For all of the legitimate and deserved criticism of the VA, Republican committee leaders are now taking out their anger on Colorado veterans," they said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, a VA official told a House subcommittee — chaired by Coffman — that the department is improperly spending at least $5 billion a year without using the competitive bidding and written contracts required by law.
The VA wants to finish the Denver hospital with $730 million from a $5 billion fund that Congress set up to reduce wait times for veterans to get health care. Lawmakers from both parties rejected that plan Tuesday.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, said it was unacceptable to delay health care improvements in his state and others to accommodate cost overruns at a single site.
The department stuck by the proposal Thursday, releasing a statement saying, "Given the fiscal environment, VA believes this is the right choice that will allow for timely completion of the Denver project and the best option for taxpayers."
Isakson and Miller again criticized the VA for not holding anyone accountable for the botched Denver project.
The VA blames a flawed design process and other problems for the overruns.
The department launched two internal investigations and has promised to punish those responsible for the problems, but no firings have been announced, angering many members of Congress.