Obama Signs Bill Buying More Time for Beleaguered VA Hospital

In this Thursday, April 2, 2015 file photo, and seen through the criss-cross pattern of a cyclone fence, the sign marking construction stands at the site of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora, Colo.  (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)
In this Thursday, April 2, 2015 file photo, and seen through the criss-cross pattern of a cyclone fence, the sign marking construction stands at the site of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

The nightmare construction project that is the veterans' affairs medical center in Aurora, Colorado, has been saved from shut down with President Obama's signing of legislation Monday directing more money to the construction.

The legislation gives the VA "limited, one-time authority" to move about $150 million from 10 budget items and funds in order to continue work on the facility through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The bill is the second one that Congress passed within the last three weeks to permit work to keep going on the Denver-area project, which has become the poster child for VA cost overruns and program delays.

The White House said nothing beyond announcing Obama had signed the bill, nor has the VA commented.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said last week when the full Senate had passed the bill that "Congress has now done everything that it can to ensure the continuation of this project. The VA and the administration must now clean up the mess they've made."

With the latest stop-gap measure in place, Isakson said the VA will have to come up with a feasible plan to continue the project in 2016 "without depriving other veterans of necessary services or care."

The latest legislation allows the VA to move a total of about $150 million from employee training programs, green energy projects, minor construction projects, the VA's revolving supply fund, its franchise fund, as well as from the VA secretary's office.

The original contract called for the hospital to be built for about $600 million. It is now estimated it will cost about $1.7 billion.

The VA has been hoping to stave off a repeat of a work stoppage that occurred last December, when some 1,400 workers walked off the construction site after the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals ruled that the VA was in breach of its contract by not producing a design that could be built for the $600 million agreed to cost.

The walk-off ended after the VA agreed to pay the contractor $234 million in "bridge" costs -- covering amounts the contractor already incurred as well as money for continuing the project.

To keep construction going the VA has been urging lawmakers to let them transfer about $700 million from the Choice Act -- intended to expand health care access to veterans -- to the Aurora project, and increase the amount already appropriated for the work from $800 million to $1 billion.

But lawmakers pushed back, telling the VA it needed to find the money from elsewhere in its budget.

On May 22 Congress passed legislation increasing appropriated funds to $900 million, which permitted work to go on through mid-June. Obama signed that bill the same day.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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