Members of the Florida Congressional delegation held a hearing on Monday at the University of Central Florida's Medical School to try and get to the bottom of lengthy delays in opening Orlando's VA hospital, but heard many of the same answers they'd been given before. From the outside, the hospital looks pretty close to done, and VA officials told the panel they are on track to finish the facility in late 2012. We asked Congressman John Mica if he believed that.
"I honestly don't know. I think that's it's important that we have this hearing, hold their feet to the fire."
Why the delays? The project was first approved in 2007, but since then more than 15 thousand change orders have been put in by the contractor or the Veterans Administration. Congresswoman Sandy Adams asked the contractor on the stand today if he had received all of the final plans from the VA. After the VA assured her all plans were complete, the contractor said he had not been given the plans yet.
"I'm very frustrated. As you know Mike we have been working very hard with the VA, with the contractors to get this completed for our veterans."
Each time a change order comes in, changes have to be made in design and cost. All of those details have to then go back to Washington DC for approval, causing extreme delays. Congresswoman Adams watched sections of concrete floor being ripped out today, as the VA continues to change its mind about what it wants inside the hospital. She says enough is enough, just get it done.
"These men and women, they've served our country. They have come back, and they deserve the medical treatment, the medical care."
As she runs against Congressman John Mica, there has been little the two agree on, but they sat side by side at today's hearing. Mica echoed her thoughts.
"Stop the nonsense. Get the building done. Get our veterans served. That's what's key here. Then the facilities that are already done, we have a 120 bed nursing home. We have a 60 bed domicile facility. We want those open now not later."
Mica also wants the current VA facility at Baldwin Park to stay open once this new facility at Lake Nona is complete. The VA now says this project will come in at the 616 million dollar budget, but the contractor disagrees with that assertion. They think the final price tag could be 130 million dollars more than anticipated once all the changes are completed. One more side note that should worry both taxpayers and veterans:
The VA admitted in that hearing that it has actually been raining inside this structure in some areas since construction started. The VA can't say how much will cost to fix it, or if it even can be fixed.