Coffman And The Budget-Busted VA Hospital: Okay, But…

Rep. Mike Coffman.

Rep. Mike Coffman.

As the Denver Post’s Electra Draper reports, the recent disclosure by the Veterans Administration that the trouble-plagued new VA hospital in Aurora would cost much more than its original estimate to complete, now at a price tag of over $1.7 billion, is giving Rep. Mike Coffman fresh ammunition in his war of words with the Obama administration in general and the VA in particular:

A Veterans Affairs official told members of Congress overseeing construction of the hospital in Aurora, now estimated to cost $1.73 billion, that the department ignored the warnings of its contractors and listened instead to its designers.

“The VA owns this. We own this fiasco,” said Dennis Milsten, VA director of the Office of Construction and Facilities. But others were involved, he said, in creating runaway costs at a construction project begun more than a decade ago…

Milsten told House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that the department’s processes of due diligence broke down. Subcommittee chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, said a better explanation would be “pure incompetence.”

After largely prevailing in his chest-thumping match with VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Coffman has benefitted from considerable positive press from his “oversight” (consisting mostly of irate press statements) of the unfolding cost overrun problems at the new Aurora VA hospital. But let’s be clear: both Colorado U.S. Senators, and more or less the entire House delegation is involved at some level in resolving this issue. We don’t doubt his sincerity, but Coffman can’t pretend that he’s the only one with any responsibility or motivation for fixing the problem.

And here’s the other part of the story that no one has picked up on, at least not yet: Coffman has served on the Veterans Affairs Committee since 2009, and he is chairman of House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Despite this, he doesn’t seem to have cared much about the longstanding troubles with the Aurora VA hospital until well after the area was redistricted into CD-6. The Obama administration’s oversight is justifiably in question now, but isn’t Coffman also on the hook for his oversight responsibilities? At least to some extent?

The Subcommittee provides oversight on programs and operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as those of other federal agencies that pertain to veterans. In carrying out its responsibilities, the Subcommittee conducts hearings, site visits, and investigations nationwide.

It seems to us that once all the chest-thumping concludes, that will be a question worth asking along with rightful questions for the VA. Everyone agrees that the present situation is not acceptable, but there’s a point at which the self-serving bombast looks a little like protesting one’s own guilt.

Not to mention that this hospital hasn’t even exceeded the price of one B-2 bomber yet. So perhaps we should keep an admittedly bad situation…in perspective.

8 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. bullshit! says:

    You’re forgetting the first rule of today’s GOP: it’s ALWAYS Obama’s fault.

  2. Diogenesdemar says:

    $1.73 billion for a ribbon for Coffman to cut??

    Why the hell would a hospital need, you know, hospital facilities?!?

  3. mamajama55 says:

    Coffman’s self-serving speechifying keeps winning him elections. CD6 voters apparently think that Coffman is looking out for their interests – due partly to his excellent staff people, who do a good job advocating for constituents with Federal agencies.

    However, as Pols points out, Coffman’s had oversight responsibility for VA affairs since he was appointed to the Veterans Affairs Committee in 2009. I wonder what a really competent investigative reporter would find out about neglect, corruption, and kickbacks involving Coffman and other members of Congress since that time. Were there ever any hearings, site visits, or investigations? Or were there merely Coffman photo ops and staged confrontations with VA officials?

    There is a real need for the new VA facility to open ASAP. In addition to all of the younger veterans from the recent Middle East adventures, there are still thousands of older veterans needing services. They are being “outsourced” to other area hospitals, which aren’t expert in veterans care, because  existing VA facilities simply do not have beds or sufficient appointment times for them.

  4. Duke Cox says:

    Sounds like a model that could generate quite a bit of profit for the hospitals that are, no doubt, being reimbursed by the tax-payers. But, nah…no one would be low enough to exploit our veterans for a profit….would they?

  5. Civics101 says:

    While this political blog is entitled to its opinions, it doesn’t get to make up its own facts to support erroneous statements. 

    Mamajamma, one thing a “really competent investigative reporter” would discover is that Colorado Pols incorrectly states Coffman was “appointed to the Veterans Affairs Committee in 2009.”  I have a letter from Coffman office, dated in November of 2009, and its letterhead shows him to be a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Natural Resources Committee, and the House Small Business Committee during his first term in office.  

    A little bit of research will show that Coffman was appointed to the House Veterans Affairs Committee in January of 2013.  It was also the same time he  became the chairman of the House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

    Also, Coffman’s 6th CD did not cover the Aurora VA hospital project until redistricting took effect in January of 2013.  That area was in Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s 7th CD then.  Anyone recall Perlmutter saying anything about it when it was in his district?  Neither can I.

    I attended the hearing in the Old Supreme Court Chambers, at the State Capitol, last June.  VA construction chief Glen Hagstrom told four House members (3R’s and 1D) that the Aurora facility — despite his claim that it was 40% complete then — would open on time in April 2015 and within the $650 million budget.  Mr. Hagstrom has since been laterally transferred off VA construction projects, but still managed to collect just under $64K in bonuses!

    Mammajamma wants to talk about neglect?  You bet!  It will take no research whatsoever for you to discover that Barack Obama has been the head of the Executive Branch, which the VA is very much part of, since January of 2009.  He has been inexplicably silent on this grossly mismanaged project for more than six years!  He has barely weighed in on the numerous scandals at the VA itself.   

    Let’s face it… the Commander-in-Chief does not have the collective veterans’ backs at all.  I truly believe Mike Coffman does.  Too bad he does not have the authority the president does not want to seem to use to resolve this mess.


    • BlueCat says:

      Completely agree that making this particular VA fiasco Coffman’s fault is more than a stretch. In fact, if there’s anything Coffman has exhibited an iota of concern for, besides just falling in line with his party’s goals of obstruction and discredited austerity and trickle down policies, it’s vets. However, making it Obama’s fault is more of a stretch. No president has ever practiced micromanagement on that level. No President has ever run the VA in anything approaching a direct hands on way.  Presidents can’t run each and every government dept. That’s just a silly thing to say and identifies you as one of those who don’t care what Obama does. Whatever it is it’s wrong, even if it’s promoting a policy straight out of conservative think tanks such as… oh… I don’t know… practically everything in ACA. 

      And if you look at budget votes down through the years it’s Republicans who have constantly voted against funding for vets, claiming we can’t afford it while they simultaneously seek to expand every possible break and subsidy for the wealthiest .1%. That, we can always afford no matter how many vets are sleeping on the streets. Never mind the austerity/trickle down policies they believe in and vote for with religious fervor never produce the promised jobs and prosperity for vets or anyone else. It’s the pure faith in conservative economic theory, no matter how thoroughly, how often and for how many decades it’s been soundly discredited by empirical evidence, that counts. Where the rubber meets the road, putting one’s money where one’s “support the troops” magnets are, the GOP has never had troops or vets backs while Dems have offered and voted for plenty of legislation that does, legislation always opposed by the overwhelming majority of Republicans. That’s Republicans and Vets 101.

    • mamajama55 says:

      Thanks for the correction, Civics. Pols erred on the date that Coffman became chairman of the Veterans Oversight Committee, and I didn’t follow my own rule of going to the original source. Pols misstated Coffman’s committee memberships – Coffman sat on the Armed Services Committee, starting when the 112th Congress was seated in 2011. His subcommittee on Military Personnel has jurisdiction over military health care, if not actual “oversight”. His fellow Colorado House memberr Doug Lamborn,on the other hand, has been a member of both the Veterans and Armed Services subcommittees for three congresses, yet has never been pro-active, only occasionally reactive, on veteran’s issues.

      But you are incorrect on the following points:

      1. Perlmutter was in the news quite a bit pushing for completion of the VA facility – here’s a Statesman article on it, which says:

      U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter — universally hailed as the driving force behind the long-stalled regional veterans hospital —

      Because it had been stalled for 12 fricking years before Ed P came on board.

      2. Coffman was aware of the construction vs. design problems – he sent a rep to the ground-breaking ceremony covered by the 2011 Statesman article – and credit where it’s due, Coffman did introduce some good veteran-friendly legislation as part of the 113th Congress.

      Most of the bills that actually made it into law were sponsored or co-sponsored by Democrats, or Independents such as Bernie Sanders. Coffman sponsored a bill in 2014 that would have gotten the Army Corps of Engineers on board to finish the VA hospital.

      At the same time, Coffman sponsored an amendment to the Defense budget to study whether to cut tuition payments for veterans. Coffman’s amendment ultimately resulted in a 25% cut in tuition payments for veterans post-military education. At the same time, he grandstanded about how to restore tuition cuts, after voting to shut down the government in 2013,  resulting in the tuition payments being withheld. Coffman’s votes to shut down the government, and to cut the DoD budget, hurt veterans and their families.

      3. As you noted, Coffman was a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He was a member of the Military Personnel subcommittee in the 112th congress – although there was an oversight committee within the ASC, Coffman wasn’t on it. However, the responsibilities for the subcommittee he was actually on included “military health care”. Seems as though he could have had his eye on the VA hospital construction a bit better, especially as it was in his District. He did introduce two bills to try to address the problem – none of them made it out of committee.

      3. You will search in vain on the 113th and 114th congress Veterans Affairs Committee for any mention of the VA hospital, construction vs. design problems, or cost overruns. There are no site visits, no investigations or hearings scheduled. So my point stands – that Mike C is big on grandstanding, short on actual leadership on veteran’s affairs. Doug Lamborn has been on both the Veterans and Armed Services committees since 2011, as well- not a peep from him on any VA scandal.

      4. On the VA records scandal of 2014, when Coffman was the chair of the oversight committee, Coffman occasionally spoke about the problem of delays in care until the scandal broke. Then he and Gardner were front and center, calling for VA Secretary Shinsecki to resign.

      So to sum up, the only thing Pols got wrong was the year that Coffman began chairing the Veterans Affairs subcommittee on Oversight.  His membership in the two previous Congresses included a seat on the Armed Services Committee Military Personnel subcommittee, which did have jurisdiction over affairs of military health and hospitals.

      It still looks like all talk and little or no (effective) action or leadership from Rep. Coffman. I don’t doubt his sincerity and caring on veteran’s health, but he is an ineffective, polarizing communicator who seems incapable of doing anything in a bipartisan way. Hence, his dismal record of only 3 out of 40 bills he’s sponsored even getting out of committee. And he is, to put it charitably, shortsighted – when he voted to shut down the government, and recently,the Defense Department, it shouldn’t have been surprising that vets got hurt.

      As for your last point – Blame it on Obama? Seriously? That’s all you’ve got? I’ll leave it there.

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