Washington, DC - Today, in a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Eric Shinseki, United States Senator Michael Bennet urged the Secretary to stand with Colorado veterans and support the construction of a stand-alone, state-of-the-art Veterans Medical Center at the Fitzsimons Campus in Aurora.
In his letter, Senator Bennet expressed concern over the delays veterans in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West have been made to endure as a result of changing leadership at the VA and changing concepts for the proposed medical facility at Fitzsimons. He also encouraged Secretary Shinseki to follow through on the VA's commitment to military veterans and move forward with the construction of the original, stand-alone hospital concept as outlined by the CARES process.
In addition, Senator Bennet pledged to work with the VA and veterans groups to explore alternative design concepts that will lower costs and increase efficiency without abandoning the original vision of a stand-alone Veterans Medical Center at the Fitzsimons Campus.
The full text of Senator Bennet's letter to Secretary Shinseki is included below:
March 3, 2009
The Honorable Eric Shinseki
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I write today to offer my congratulations on your recent confirmation as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and to highlight an issue of extreme importance to Colorado's veterans. As Senator for a state with a vibrant veterans community, I share your dedication to our nation's returned service members and their families, and I look forward to working with you to serve the men and women who have committed themselves to protect our nation's freedom.
As you know, members of the Colorado congressional delegation sent a letter to you on January 15, 2009, regarding the delay in the construction of a new Veterans Medical Center at the former Fitzsimons Army Base in Aurora, Colorado. I wish to echo the concerns of that letter and offer my unequivocal support for the construction of the new, stand-alone medical center in Aurora.
After eight years and three Secretaries of Veterans Affairs, despite being named a "major construction" priority by the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) commission, the project remains sidelined, creating anxiety throughout our veterans community and prolonging the creation of a facility that would provide much-needed care for veterans in the state of Colorado and the region.
Although the CARES commission made specific recommendations for a stand-alone facility, former Secretary Peake recently explored a ‘hospital within a hospital' concept with the University of Colorado. There are serious concerns about this idea, and local veterans service organizations are adamantly opposed to such a plan. The alternative proposal, which intends to use a shared bed tower at the University of Colorado Medical Center, creates additional concerns given the continuing credit crunch in the bond market. If the VA proceeds with the alternative plan, and funding sources are not sustainable, project delays could seriously affect the services we provide our veterans.
The stand-alone hospital concept is currently the only plan with widespread support. This plan will meet the needs of veterans throughout the Rocky Mountain West and will fulfill the guidelines outlined by the VA's own review process. The CARES plan explicitly envisioned a veterans-focused, stand-alone facility to provide comprehensive in-patient and outpatient care for veterans. Importantly, the original plan includes a 30-bed, in-patient Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Center that meets the minimum requirements for such a facility set forth in the VA's own guidance manual.
Congress has authorized $568,400,000 for the project, and $188,300,000 has already been appropriated. Approximately 40 acres of land and a new administrative office have been acquired for construction purposes.
Although cost estimates for the project have grown substantially, I am committed to working with the VA and other stakeholders to find cost-saving measures to lower projections and increase efficiency throughout the facility. Alternative design concepts and modifications may need to be explored to help reduce the current price tag. Nevertheless, abandoning the stand-alone facility entirely, and providing an insufficient number of in-patient SCI beds, is a compromise we cannot afford to make.
Veterans across Colorado and the region have demonstrated strong support for the stand-alone facility to move forward. With 1.7 million new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can no longer afford delays. I urge you to help us live up to the promises we have made to the men and women who bravely served our nation, and I look forward to working with you to begin construction of this essential facility.
Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator