Handicap doors missing, broken at new VA hospital

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AURORA, Colo. -- The new Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora will end up costing nearly $2 billion.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers spent time over the summer documenting entry and exit points, wondering if the VA would create Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant doorways.

At least two outside access doors are without electronic push buttons that automatically open the entryway.

Inside, additional doors had automatic mechanisms installed, but the devices didn’t work.

The most problematic, persistence barrier leads to the VA’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center of “Life Skills” program.

That program has been open to veterans during construction for nearly three years, according to vet Tim Tuttle.

“I’m disabled and have a hard time opening the door and me and my veteran friends have to open the door all the time for people in wheelchairs,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle is part of a leadership team for Life Skills Center. He loves what the program can do for vets and their families. However, the lack of an easy access door has soured some of the participants.

“They’d rather have that handicap access button, so they can do it on their own," he said. "That’s self-sufficiency. When other people have to help them, number one, it’s embarrassing. Two, they feel they’re not self-sufficient. That’s what VA is all about and the Life Skills is about -- to promote confidence.

“When you can’t access basic services and if there is no one to open the door for you, I’ve seen people turn away and not get the help they need.”

At this week’s ribbon cutting, Sallie Houser-Hanfelder, the director of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, was asked about this problem.

"We’re working on the issue of what are and aren’t," Houser-Hanfelder said. "There are some that aren’t accessible to patients. We’re working on that. There’s some push plates we need to put in. The life skills center is in the old building. We’re working on that to get that outer door handicap accessible."

However, hidden cameras found another big problem with access in another area as well: On the ground floor garage next to the spinal injury and trauma center.

New working handicap access doors to get inside from handicap parking spots were found, but only into a short hallway.

The next set of heavy doors, which leads to the care area, are not accessible to anyone in a wheelchair or with other mobility issues.

A few days after that ribbon cutting, and that promise to fix the doors, FOX31 went back to check on the progress.

We not only found more broken, non-compliant ADA doors, we also ran into some resistance to our persistence.

While a camera crew was standing on a sidewalk outside the Life Skills Center getting video of that door, an unidentified VA staff person and public affairs officer Brandy Morrison approached.

“I’m sorry sir. Are you still filming? Can you please stop? You are not authorized to film on campus," Morrison said.

FOX31 immediately left the property and finished recording across the street.

On Wednesday, VA public affairs sent a new statement, addressing the access point near the Life Skills Center.

“Building A’s exterior door was never meant to be a permanent entrance, and beginning July 30, all Veterans will use the building’s primary entry point, which is through the Parking Visitor South entrance, concourse and breezeway," according to the statement.

"This entrance is ADA compliant. We apologize for any inconvenience our Veterans have experienced during this time of transition.”

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