By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The long-awaited construction of a stand-alone veterans’ hospital at Fitzsimons got a boost Wednesday after the U.S. Senate passed a bill that includes $119 million in funding for the project.
Lawmakers and veterans’ groups applauded the initial passage of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., played a part in securing the additional funding that President Barack Obama requested for the construction of the hospital.
“The men and women who have fought for this country deserve the best health care we can provide, and after years of pushing for a new veterans’ hospital in Aurora it is finally coming true,” said a statement from Udall. “I have fought alongside the veterans’ community for many years to get the VA to honor its promise to replace the hospital. And I was proud to include funding in this bill so we can move one step closer to getting it built.”
As recent as last year, community leaders like former Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., and Jim Hudson of the Colorado Veterans for America were worried that a scaled down project of the hospital would force the medical center to share space with the University of Colorado.
But after years of false starts and increasing anger from community groups, lawmakers and veterans over an apparent lack of progress on the hospital, the VA in August finally broke ground on the new facility. The new medical center will provide a full range of medical, laboratory, research and counseling services, as well as a 30-bed state-of-the-art spinal cord injury unit.
“This huge improvement and expansion of veterans’ services in Colorado will make an incredible difference in how we treat those who served our nation in uniform,” said a statement released earlier this year by Iraq War Veteran Casey Howard. “Additionally, the construction of these facilities will create local jobs, which is a desperate need of veterans and non-veterans alike.”
Congress has previously approved around $568 million for the hospital. But the VA expects that the project will need at least $200 million more than.
The $119 million in new funding would go towards constructing a new community living center, outpatient clinic and parking for the hospital.
The appropriations bill that was passed by the full Senate Wednesday also included $4.5 million in new federal funding so the 140th Fighter Wing of the Colorado National Guard can expand its weapons release complex — which is a facility in which weapons are maintained — at Buckley Air Force Base. According to a press release, the existing facility at Buckley is too small, making it difficult for the National Guard to provide adequate training to maintenance personnel.
“We need to honor the service of Colorado’s Air National Guard members by providing training facilities that meet all of their needs,” said a statement from Bennet. “This funding will make sure our National Guard troops have properly-sized facilities to help them do their jobs safely.”
A final version of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill must now be worked out with the U.S. House of Representatives.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters