Colo. VA hospital finally ready to open

DENVER (AP) — It’s more than $1 billion over budget and five years behind schedule, but an elaborate new veterans hospital finally is ready to open in suburban Denver with the promise of state-of-the-art medical care.

The $1.7 billion Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center made it through nearly a decade of management blunders, legal battles, federal investigations and congressional hearings.

Lawmakers were so angry they stripped the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of the authority to manage big projects in the future and gave it to the Army’s construction experts, the Corps of Engineers.

Veterans say they are frustrated by the tortuous path but relieved the hospital finally is done.

“The cost overrun has been unfortunate. The schedule slip has been unfortunate. Yeah, it’s all been unfortunate,” said Leanne Wheeler, an Air Force veteran who gets VA health care in Denver.

The VA plans a ribbon-cutting ceremony today. Outpatient services are to begin moving from the old hospital in Denver to the new facility Friday, and hospitalized veterans will be transferred starting Aug. 4.

The bright, airy complex in the east Denver suburb of Aurora is a collection of a dozen large buildings connected by a long, soaring, glass-walled corridor. From above, it looks like square leaves growing from a vine.

Most patients will have private rooms, with space for family to stay overnight. Operating rooms have easy access to the intensive care unit as well as pre- and post-operation rooms.

When it’s in full operation, the hospital will offer services that the old one does not, including clinics for spinal cord injuries, mammography, PET scans for cancer, prosthetics and aquatic therapy.

But a post-traumatic stress disorder program will remain at the old campus for now. It was axed when the VA tried to rein in costs.