After more than a decade of delays, a new Veteran’s Affairs medical center in Colorado has opened and come under fire for its total building cost.
The Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center, which opened in Aurora, is now considered the most expensive VA medical center ever with a price tag of $1.73 billion, according to an NBC News report on Friday.
The original cost of the facility was $328 million. Due to delays and cost overruns, the facility was completed 14 years later for $1.73 billion. Located in a suburb of Denver, the facility spans 31 acres and is comprised of 12 buildings. It is expected to replace the current VA medical center in Denver.
The facility rests on the site of the former Fitzsimons Army Base and Medical Center, which closed in 1999.
The facility was originally anticipated to open in 2013, but was continually pushed back all the way until 2018. In 2015, Congress ordered the construction’s management to be transferred out of the VA’s hands and into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control. The center was considered half-built at the point of the transition, and the transfer was said to have significantly sped up completion.
The VA’s mismanagement of the project was considered the sole source of the delays and other problems. Senior officials at the VA had testified in front of Congress to discuss the problems, but due to lack of accountability, changes were not implemented to solve the problems.
Veterans in the area were frustrated over the delays for the much-needed facility. The old facility in Denver is considered inadequate, with outdated equipment and a facility of only half the size of the new facility.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place in late July to commemorate the facility’s long-awaited opening.
Today #CO06 celebrated the ribbon cutting of the new Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in #Aurora. Thank you to the @USACEHQ for making this day possible for our #Veterans! pic.twitter.com/qj0A1KF0Pf
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) July 22, 2018
Peter O’Rourke, who was the VA’s Acting Secretary at the time, told the ceremony attendees: “This is a great day for the VA, for Denver and for Colorado.”
Ralph Bozella, president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, said: “After years of unfulfilled promises, plans, false starts, well-documented problems and issues, changes in VA leadership, changes in Congressional delegation, yes, we have survived it.”
“This wonderful thing is built,” he added.
The facility is expected to open a spinal cord injury center in approximately six months, and will add a center specializing in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within 18 months after contract approval.
Until these centers are open, part of the Denver VA will remain open, as it offers both services. An estimated $350 million will be required to maintain and upkeep the Denver facility until 2023.