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Deputy VA Secretary 'Blown Away' By Progress At Aurora Hospital

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - The deputy secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department was back in Colorado on Wednesday to meet with contractors to check on the progress of the still unfinished VA hospital in Aurora.

The mental health clinic at the hospital is already taking patients, but Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson wouldn't say when the rest of the hospital will be open for business.

If all goes as planned construction should be done in January of 2018, but if the past is any indication, it doesn't always go as planned.

"I'm blown away by progress that I've seen," Gibson said at a news conference at the hospital.

Sloan Gibson
Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson at the VA hospital in Aurora on Wednesday (credit: CBS)

Gibson issued his latest -- and most optimistic -- progress report on the hospital years overdue and a billion dollars over budget.

"As you walk around the site it's like a beehive," Gibson said. "You can feel the energy around the project."

It's a project plagued by mismanagement that at one point resulted in a lawsuit by the contractor and a complete shutdown of construction.

"Some of the things that have been done, organized and executed by the (Army Corps of Engineers) and Kiewit Turner with some support from the VA staff here are really, really showing up in project both in terms of timelines and quality and schedule as well," Gibson said.

But he stopped short of announcing a grand opening.

"I'm not going to speculate."

He also wouldn't promise the price -- triple the original estimate -- wouldn't go up further.

"We have no indication at this point that we're going to need additional funding. It's a big project," Gibson said. "This is a very complex project and I think the guys from the Corp of Engineers would tell you there are no guarantees."

VA Hospital in Aurora1
The VA Hospital in Aurora (credit: CBS)

"What I'm seeing here is that attitudes have changed," said Ralph Bozella with the United Veterans Committee of Colorado.

Bozella has been pushing for the new hospital for 15 years.

"We went through a lot dark times here," he said.

He says there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

The inspector general is completing its final review of what went wrong and will make its findings public. But the VA will not release the findings of its own administrative investigation, which U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman has pushed it to do. Gibson says it would have a chilling effect on future investigations.

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