Congress: Not a dime more until someone at VA takes responsibility for hospital cost overruns

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VA hospital project in Aurora, Colo

VA hospital project in Aurora, Colo

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DENVER -- Construction at the Veteran Affairs Medical Complex in Aurora could come to a halt next month as funding will soon run out. Adding to the problems, Congressional leaders are now threatening to withhold any additional tax dollars until someone at the VA takes responsibility for the cost overruns and delays created by mismanagement of the project.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson last week told FOX31 Denver’s Tak Landrock that he could not hold people accountable because of Federal regulation. “I can’t take any disciplinary action, against any employee, without evidence that will withstand appeal.”

Gibson’s answer drew criticism from Congressional leaders who said he knew about the failures after being briefed monthly about the problems at the Aurora facility.

Representative Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, issued a scathing letter directed at the VA leaders Tuesday after our report.  He wrote, “Congress will not authorize another dime for the Denver project until VA takes it seriously – something the department has failed to do from the beginning."

The VA medical center will now cost taxpayers $1.7 billion, more than two times the original estimated cost. Congress needs to approve an additional $830 million to keep the project going or it will shut down again, like it did last December, putting workers out of jobs and raising the cost to complete it even higher.

Miller’s letter about the VA’s failures outlines options the agency must come up with to solve the rising cost of the project that is years behind schedule. One of the options is to sell partially completed parts of the complex and just use current facilities it already has in Denver. He also recommended finding ways to cut the costs.

FOX31 Denver has been reporting that the House Veterans Affairs Committee has held six separate hearings on the cost overruns since 2011 and a 2013 GAO report highlighted how every major VA hospital construction project in the country was hundreds of millions over budget and years behind opening.

Gibson also responded to our question about why the man in charge of VA construction, Glenn Haggstrom, was allowed to retire one day after he was put under oath during a VA investigation. Gibson told FOX31 Denver that federal employees eligible to retire are allowed to retire.

Miller said it was up to the VA to hold employees accountable for their actions. “The only acceptable form of accountability is terminations – not retirements, resignations or transfers to other positions.”

Haggstrom was part of a FOX31 Denver investigation in January. We uncovered that he collected more than $46,000 worth of bonuses for what his bosses considered “a job well done.”

His bonuses came as legal battles brewed between the main building contractor on the Aurora hospital and the VA. Veterans Affairs eventually lost the legal battle and the Army Corps of Engineers was pushed to take over management of the project while Haggstrom was moved to a lateral position inside the VA.

Gibson started at VA in Feb 2014, but sources said he never made any effort to officially discipline Haggstrom or even change leadership of VA’s construction efforts, despite the cost overruns of four VA construction projects.

See full coverage of our VA investigations here.

 

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