July 15, 2008

VA ‘Deception’ Claimed in Fitzsimons Plan

By Tillie Fong

Two Democratic lawmakers are accusing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of "deception" for not releasing a master plan this year for a veterans' hospital at the Fitzsimons medical campus in Aurora.

"It is our understanding that, unbeknownst to us or any veterans' group, the VA received the final version of this plan in January 2008," U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter wrote in a letter to VA Secretary James Peake on Monday.

"If true, this willful withholding of information is highly questionable and inexcusable."

Salazar and Perlmutter called on Peake to release the master plan by this Friday and for the VA to stop all negotiations related to a smaller project that was proposed in April.

Calls to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were not returned Monday night.

Salazar and Perlmutter noted that it has been four years since the VA's Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services recommended replacing the aging veterans hospital in Denver with a state-of-the art facility to include a 30-bed spinal cord injury center.

Congress approved funding to the VA to construct the hospital at Fitzsimons, but the agency has been slow to move on the project.

In response to requests from Salazar and Perlmutter for an update on the new hospital at Fitzsimons, the VA presented in April a plan for a scaled-down version.

The new plan, which placed more focus on expanding care in outlying areas, calls for a health care center with outpatient primary, specialty and ambulatory services but sharing two towers with the University of Colorado, one for inpatient care and the other for research.

Veterans were particularly upset at the proposed substitution of an eight-bed clinic for the spinal cord injury center and at the split of facilities for the inpatient and outpatient services.

"We wanted input," said Ralph Bozella, a member of the Colorado Board of Veteran Affairs and a past state commander for the American Legion. "We live here, and we know what we need.

"One thing that we don't want is a split hospital. You can't split your inpatient and outpatient services. You still need a hospital. Make it smaller but self-contained."

Originally published by Tillie Fong, Rocky Mountain News.

(c) 2008 Rocky Mountain News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.