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Jan 17, 3:12 PM EST

Auditors raise more concerns about Denver VA hospital costs


DENVER (AP) -- Government auditors raised concerns Wednesday about the cost of medical equipment and furniture for a new veterans hospital in suburban Denver that is already vastly over budget.

The Government Accountability Office told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the Veterans Affairs Department did not follow best practices when it compiled the $341 million estimate for equipping the medical center, The Denver Post reported .

The $1.7 billion hospital in Aurora is scheduled to open Aug. 11, replacing an old and crowded Denver facility.

GAO auditor Andrew Von Ah told the committee he was not yet overly concerned about the estimate.

The agency is confident in the figure, said Stella Fiotes, acting principal executive director of the VA's Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction.

"The overall activation budget still is on track with the planned $341 million" estimate, she told the committee.

Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., vowed to "keep a close eye" on the equipment and furniture costs.

The $341 million had been reported previously and is in addition to the $1.7 billion construction costs.

The medical center is more than $1 billion over budget.

Multiple investigations concluded construction costs got out of hand because the VA did not oversee the project closely enough, approved lavish design elements, failed to get the designers and builders to agree on the design and tried to use a complicated form of construction contract that agency executives did not fully understand.

Most construction work is expected to be done this month, but hundreds of tasks remain, including replacing dozens of power outlets and rebuilding walls that are not strong enough to support mounted X-ray machines.

Lawmakers are also concerned that the VA must continue to operate the current Denver hospital for at least three years because the new campus will not have a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic when it opens.

The VA had planned to build one, but it was cut to save money after the extent of the budget problems were revealed.

The VA still wants to build a PTSD clinic at the new site, but that will likely take several years.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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