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Congress authorizes $29.5 million to restart work at Oklahoma City VA after construction boondoggle

Daily Oklahoman - 12/22/2018

Dec. 22--Congress has authorized $29.5 million for construction of a surgical intensive care unit and operating room renovations at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center, projects that have been on hold since they were bungled by a contractor years ago.

Attached to a Veterans Affairs bill passed by the House and Senate was permission for the VA to spend $29,461,000 at the Oklahoma City hospital. The amount covers the roughly $20 million cost of the two projects, plus $9.5 million to repair mistakes by the previous contractor, TL Services.

"Some of the flooring, all of the drywall, the duct work, the pipes will all have to be replaced" on the hospital's top floor, said Wade Vlosich, the hospital's director.

In March, a VA inspector general report concluded the projects were $10.8 million over budget, several years behind schedule and were once in violation of federal law due to engineering mismanagement and bitter disagreements between contractors.

Two VA employees were fired as a result of the construction boondoggle, two more resigned before they could be fired and a fifth person retired while facing disciplinary action. TL Services has vehemently denied workmanship deficiencies by its employees.

The operating room will be renovated on the seventh floor, currently the top floor. For the surgical intensive care unit, or SICU, a new eighth floor will be built atop the existing roof.

Previous shoddy work there caused large amounts of water to run down interior walls and stripped away the roof's fire protection. While awaiting congressional approval for major construction, the VA has done minor work to ensure the hospital's structural integrity.

"Anything that's a safety issue anywhere, we can go ahead and fix, but as for the actual construction, we can't do anything until the president signs off on it," Vlosich said.

The projects, which were conceived of in 2008 and halted in 2016, are expected to take another two or three years to complete, with the operating room renovations occurring first. The exact timeline and cost will not be known until contractors assess the work that has already been done and determine how much of it will need to be demolished.

The $29.5 million authorization came in a package of VA bills known as the Veterans Benefit and Transaction Act. The legislation passed unanimously through the House and Senate in mid-December.

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