Hot SheetTrendingVeterans

Vets, officials on hand for ribbon cutting at Aurora VA hospital

Author: Mark Harden - July 22, 2018 - Updated: July 23, 2018

AP18202732134218-1280x960.jpg
Visitors stroll through a long, glass-walled corridor that connects a dozen buildings at the new Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the hospital Saturday, July 21, 2018. The $1.7 billion medical center replaces an aging and crowded facility in Denver. Outpatient services will begin moving into the new hospital on July 27, and hospitalized veterans will be transferred starting Aug. 4. The medical center is more than $1 billion over budget and five years behind schedule. (AP Photo/Dan Elliott)

After years of delay and cost overruns, the $1.7 billion Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, with veterans and dignitaries on hand to mark the occasion.

Bridget Villegas, a medical support assistant for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, shows visitors an operating room at the new Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the hospital Saturday, July 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Dan Elliott)

“It’s MASSIVE,” 9News reporter Jeremy Jojola tweeted from the scene.

Peter O’Rourke, acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, represented the department at the event. Also attending was U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, a frequent critic of the VA for its handling of the project.

“@RepMikeCoffman at podium calling out VA for “failure” of construction of this hospital…..also thanked others involved in keeping project alive,” Jojola tweeted.

Also on hand was U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who issued this statement Saturday:

Congratulations to the many veterans who fought for this day, as we celebrate what will be the crown jewel of the VA (medical) system. The opening of this facility is long overdue, but this medical center is essential in making sure that Colorado’s finest have access to the best medical care possible. We are forever grateful to our men and women in uniform and I will stop at nothing to make sure they are given the care and treatment they deserve. I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure that crucial veterans’ projects like these are never mismanaged again.

Gardner’s staff said the senator “met with the VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie earlier this week and emphasized the work that still needs to be done, such as filling open positions and finding qualified personnel to staff hospitals. The long wait times and staffing shortages that occur at many VA hospitals as a result of the lack of staff and lengthy hiring process remains an issue at the VA.”

Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke prepares to speak at the opening of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora on July 21, 2018. (Jeremy Jojola, KUSA-9News)

The office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, issued this statement late Friday:

For nearly a decade, Bennet has partnered with the Colorado veterans community and Colorado lawmakers to ensure the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center would be completed and that future VA construction projects are effectively managed. In 2015, he requested and secured a field hearing on the replacement medical facility project in Aurora with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Bennet also passed bipartisan legislation to transfer VA construction management to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He also has passed legislation to change the culture at the VA, give employees tools to punish wrongdoing, and strengthen protections for whistleblowers.

Jojola said there were also “many Vietnam vets at Saturday’s ceremony. Our country didn’t treat these men too well when they came back from war. Let’s hope this hospital will fulfill the promises that were made to these men.”

 

Outpatient services will begin moving in on July 27, and hospitalized veterans will be transferred starting Aug. 4.

The medical center is more than $1 billion over budget and five years behind schedule.

Federal investigators blamed the overruns on VA executives, saying they opted for a lavish design, tried to use a complicated contract they didn’t fully understand, failed to get the designers and builders to agree on plans and costs and didn’t oversee the work closely enough.

> CLICK HERE for more on the hospital’s opening and what led to it.

And here’s more information on the hospital from Colorado Politics contributor Kara Mason, writing for the Aurora Sentinel.

The Associated Press contributed.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.