By: Frank McCurdy, National Executive Committeeman, As Published in the May 2015 Observer
Today is April 13, 2015, and we still have no resolution on the final funding plan of our new Fitzsimmons VAMC. For now, the project construction continues; however, due to the lack of appropriated funds or lack of reassigned internal VA funds, construction could STOP in May. For that reason, it is time for Congress to act!
Today, the United Veterans Committee (UVC) and the American Legion (TAL) met with ten Congressional Staffers to determine how Colorado’s Delegation planned to fund our new VAMC. All agreed the problems associated with the new VAMC were the result of the incompetence within the VA Headquarters, Construction Management Division. This is a problem that was created in Washington and needs to be corrected in Washington. The UVC has, for years, questioned the lack of VA transparency, accountability, and communication with our VSOs. Transparency has improved but must go further.
The TAL and the UVC continue to request VA accountability. The VA, upon the urging of Congress, is conducting what is called an “Accountably Review.” The Review should be completed late April. Their finding should be interesting.
As a private sector CEO, I think VA Secretary McDonald would like to execute immediate personnel actions but is inhibited to act quickly due to Civil Service Rules. Therefore, let’s give the Secretary some time. Regardless, of the need for transparency or accountability, the VA does not have enough appropriated money to complete this project. . The next question is how much will the entire project cost?
For at least the last two years, Kiewit Turner has stated that the project would cost around $1.1 billion or about an additional $400 million. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has taken over VAMC construction management. ACOE estimates a total cost of 1.73 billion dollars. How could that cost estimate be accurate? The next big question is how do we proceed? There are only two sources of funds available.
VA must reassign internal VA funds or obtain an additional appropriation. Tomorrow, APR 14th, the Denver Post will report that VA will propose diverting 830 million from funds appropriated within the 5 billion dollar section of the “Choice Act.” There is no guarantee of passage, but it does make sense. The VA would probably not spend all that 5 billion dollars during this fiscal year. Since Congress ultimately has responsibility to provide funding, I am sure Congress will request additional cost justification and consider adverse operational impacts on the “Choice Act. Currently, eight of our nine Senators and Congresspersons support funding our VAMC.
Sunday, April 19th, Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will be the keynote speaker at the UVC Awards Banquet. Hopefully, Secretary Gibson will outline VA’s plan concerning how this VAMC project will unfold. You can be sure that the TAL and the UVC will continue to work with Secretary Gibson, our Colorado Delegation, and the VA to complete this VAMC. Do you know everything we discussed in this article would not have been possible without a credible veteran membership?
We all know April and May are difficult recruiting months. I would ask all Post leadership to try and be creative in your recruiting efforts. Your efforts will decide the effectiveness of the TAL.