Hospital Cutbacks Spark Outrage Among Veterans

Denver Post

July 20, 2008 – Colorado veterans who want their own hospital rallied near the state Capitol on Sunday, incensed by a recently released report that shows potential budget overruns led Veterans Affairs officials to scale back plans for an Aurora medical facility.

The cutbacks announced in April left the embattled medical center at the Fitzsimons campus – originally envisioned as a self-sufficient hospital – sharing space and resources with the University of Colorado. The impact on services is unclear, but it first appeared the hospital would serve fewer spinal cord injury patients.

Veterans and congressional leaders pointed out Sunday that years of delays and revisions have helped inflate construction costs for their ideal hospital to more than $1 billion. The scaled-back version apparently meets the more than $700 million budget.

“For veterans in the Rocky Mountain region to have . . . rented space in someone else’s hospital is inconceivable,” said National Foreign Legion Commander Tom Bock. “We’ve got to make sure this plan . . . builds us a stand-alone hospital.”

The VA declined to comment beyond the letter Secretary James Peake sent Colorado congressmen with the report.

In it, Peake says veterans will be better served by improvements to satellite clinics, home care and telecare programs than a costly hospital in the metro area.

Leasing beds rather than building a new hospital could “become a pivot point for future” facilities, according to the VA’s report.

The agency and the Bush Administration have been mulling whether to continue providing in-house care for veterans or contracting services to outside companies.

The report provides an overview of a $4 million study the VA conducted on Fitzsimons and completed in January without sharing details with veterans groups or lawmakers – a move that angered Colorado’s delegation.

Congress has already set aside $168 million for the project and could approve another $769 million this year.

Fitzsimons would serve nearly 500,000 veterans from Colorado, as well as those from Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana.

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