VA secretary to announce plan for veterans hospital in Aurora

The two Democrats and others have lobbied adamantly for a stand-alone hospital, which would serve veterans in eight states. The project has been stalled for years because of a budget shortfall, and planners considered other options, like putting the facility inside an existing CU building.

"Even though this has been a project eight years in the making, it's still an enormously important project," said Udall. "It's crucial to the vets to whom we've made promises."

The hospital will create "enormous synergy" with university medical research and act as an "economic engine" for the area, Udall and Perlmutter said.

Udall said medical lessons learned on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan will help propel the facility to the cutting edge of medical research. A proposed 30-bed spinal-cord injury center is part of that plan, he said.

In addition, veterans officials have requested 76 inpatient beds, 32 intensive-care beds and 56 mental-health treatment beds. The new facility would replace one built in Denver in 1950.

Shinseki will be the fourth Veterans Affairs secretary to make a decision about the project in the eight years since planning began.

"We've been burned so many times. ... I don't see how at this point they can deny us our request," said Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs Director William Conroy, who also is lobbying for a stand-alone hospital.

The University of Colorado said it's ready to work with the VA and Congress whether officials decide on stand-alone hospital or a joint facility with the school.

The project was estimated to cost $1.1 billion, but Congress authorized only about half of that, Perlmutter said.

"At first blush, it looks like there will be some changes to the plan," Perlmutter said, adding officials could reduce the scope of the hospital and seek more funding to deal with cost constraints.

"This facility does not have to look like the Taj Mahal," Udall said. "It has to serve veterans."

Perlmutter hopes the hospital will also serve active-duty military so service men and women at nearby Buckley Air Force Base can take advantage of it.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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