Court hearing to decide future of VA hospital

AURORA, Colo. — A project aimed at helping veterans with health care will have its day in federal court Wednesday. The VA hospital construction project has been plagued with delays because of design changes, cost overruns and a heated dispute with the construction company.

The original price tag was set at $200 million, but the construction company says it cannot finish the project for less than $1 billion. The court’s decision could determine if construction continues or if workers walk away.

The dispute between the VA and Kiewet-Turner will be sorted out in federal court, where the U.S. Civilian Board of Appeals will decide who is responsibile for dealing with construction costs. Last month, lawmakers demanded answers from the VA.

“You’ve got problems on every project, not just this project,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. “Every project has different contractors and what that leads me to believe is that you’re not a construction entity.”

“VA has the funds to complete this project,” said Glenn Haggstrom with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA remains committed to meeting the current and future challenges necessary to finish this long-awaited project in the most judicious and the most cost efficient and timely manner.”

The project is two years behind schedule. The original price tag of $200 million has more than tripled to $630 million and it could go up again to $800 million. Kiewit-Turner told a federal board last year it had the right to stop work on the project until additional funding was secured.

Caught in the middle are some 160,000 veterans, including Ralph Bozella.

“I’ve been on record of saying we don’t need a Taj Mahal, we just want a hospital,” Bozella said.

Coffman proposes letting the Army Corps of Engineers to take over management of the project. He says the VA should focus on taking care of veterans, not managing hospital construction.

“Let’s bring them in on these projects and let them sort it out and tell us how to move these projects forward,” he said.

The new opening date is May 2015. Realistically, congressional leaders say it will be 2016. The trial is expected to wrap up June 6.