The recent articles that have appeared in the Denver Post, and has now appeared on 9News and Fox 31 Denver News cast, about the construction of the new VA Medical Center were well organized with many correct facts. But, some of those facts seemed to be spun to reflect poorly on the veteran’s community and that is why I am writing.
I was one of nine veterans appointed by Aurora Mayor Paul Tauer to help determine the proper use of the land being vacated by the Army under the base closure procedures. I was representing The American Legion. We were the only veteran’s organization at the table at that time. The Mayor appointed about 45 or so people representing various interests to look at the best and highest uses for the land.
A gentleman by the name of Bob Olson, who was appointed to be the Director of the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority, stood up at the first meeting with a white board in front of him, marker in hand and asked for ideas. Immediately hands went up and the first two items on top of the board were #1. Build a State Veterans Nursing Home #2. Relocate the Denver VA Medical Center to the campus. Item # 1 is complete. The list deteriorated pretty fast after that. And, at no time during that meeting, or subsequent meetings, was there a recommendation to re-locate the University of Colorado to the campus.
As an officer of The American Legion I helped write the resolution asking that the VA consider moving the Denver VA to this site. This resolution was shared immediately with the leadership of the VA and was eventually passed by our national organization and became our national mandate. So at that point the journey began.
The meetings continued with the Mayor’s committee. The veteran’s community was able to schedule meetings with our Congressional Offices to plan the strategy to relocate the VA. At one of those congressional meetings representatives of the VA said their projections of “numbers” of veterans by the year 2016 would be declining and they didn’t feel there would be a need for a new facility. Obviously this was the first indication of an inept VA. Their Pollyanna view of a world without war, and without veterans, was seriously flawed.
Enter the University of Colorado. They had a plan. A visionary plan put together by private sector thinking. Their plan was to relocate their hospital and facilities to the Fitzsimons campus. The initial thinking was that it would take 25 years to move everything and that was considered aggressive. We know the results of that plan.
Discussions were opened with the VA and the University. One plan was to integrate the VA and the University, the so called “hospital within a hospital.” Sounded like a great idea, save money on equipment, personnel space and deliver the best medical services in the nation to our western region veterans. The American Legion and other veterans were on board with this idea. But, reality set in, in the form of people. How do you integrate federal government employees with private sector employees? Who would be the custodial staff at this hospital within a hospital, the VA employees or the University employees? Would the door that veterans entered be considered the front door or the back door? And on and on it went, to its eventual death.
The VA planners said they needed 33 acres as the footprint to build their new hospital. They wanted to build out and not up. At one of the meetings a VA representative said that the VA knows how to build hospitals. At this point in time, we know they don’t know how. Children’s Hospital knows how, St Anthony’s knows how, the University knows how, Sky Ridge knows how, and all in record time and within budget. The VA doesn’t have a clue. Denver is not the only example of their ineptness in building hospitals. As the Denver Post articles point out, Orlando, New Orleans and Las Vegas are suffering the same fate.
So what? What do we do now? We can play the blame game but that doesn’t get us anywhere. We need to finish the hospital. Why? Because veterans are not going to go away! Maybe Iraq and Afghanistan are going away as makers of combat veterans but history shows us that something will take their place. If we want to remain a free country we need a strong military. Maybe some of our political leaders don’t believe that but almost every veteran that ever served knows that. The VA can concoct all the future numbers they want but veterans needing medical care are not going away in the foreseeable future.
Congress needs to fix this problem. They need to take the inept VA design staff and whatever leadership caused these problems behind the proverbial woodshed and get this fixed. If money is needed, find it. From an economic point of view money spent now will return enormous benefits to the local community, to the State and to the region in future years. Two hundred million, four hundred million, these are infinitesimal amounts in the total federal budget. We give hundreds of millions to foreign counties, some of which are not friendly to us. Can we not invest in a strong America by investing in our veterans? It is just good business sense to complete the project.
President Obama needs to step in. I am sure he remembers President Truman’s famous words, “The buck stops here.” Does he believe this?
Let me say that I am not criticizing all of the VA hospital staff. For those of us that use the Denver VA Hospital their staff is the greatest. They care and they do the best with what they have to work with. The problem is the VA think tank in Washington. How dumb was it to build a 33 acre spread out facility where patients have to walk everywhere for treatment on crutches, bad knees and bad legs, walkers and some in wheelchairs instead of taking an elevator to the next floor for treatment? Common sense apparently doesn’t prevail at the VA Central Office when it comes to building hospitals.
I was a relatively young man when all of this started. Maybe my efforts would be better served by advocating for a new Veterans Cemetery in the Colorado Springs area. I might need it before the VA finishes this hospital.
As Tom Tancredo said in front of the Veterans Memorial in downtown Denver several years ago, BTDT, Build the Damn Thing. What better way to thank today’s veterans, and our future veterans, for protecting our freedoms.
Charles Pat Smith
The American Legion