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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good morning, and welcome to today’s House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Full Committee field hearing, “The New Orlando Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center: Broken Ground, Broken Promises.”

I am grateful to my colleagues, our witnesses, interested members of the community, and – most importantly – the veterans in our audience today, for joining us this morning as we bring Congress to Orlando.

I also want to recognize and thank the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine for their hard work and cooperation in providing us with this space in the heart of the Medical City.

When ground was broken in October 2008 on what will – eventually - become the new Orlando VA Medical Center, this area was a mere shadow of what it is today.

Since then, ideas and plans that existed on drafting paper and in the minds of architects, designers, and engineers have evolved into existing infrastructure and active medical and research institutions.

As you can tell from the crowds of backpacks in the hallway, today is the first day of classes this year at the UCF College of Medicine, which broke ground in 2007 and opened in 2010.

Behind us is the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, which broke ground in 2007 and opened its doors in 2009.

Next to Sanford-Burnham is the University of Florida’s Research and Academic Center, which broke ground in 2010 and will open to students and faculty later this year.

And, across the way is the Nemour [KNEE-MORE] Children’s Hospital, which broke ground in 2009 and will open to patients just two short months from now.

Yet, the new Orlando VA Medical Center which was scheduled to be complete in October 2012 and an anchor in this Medical City, is an empty shell.

 Four years and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars later, VA has yet to yield anywhere close to the same results as its neighbors.

It was my intention to hold this hearing at the new Orlando VA Medical Center site.

However, a forum like this would be impossible.

Brand-new, state-of-the-art facilities all around us are educating students and conducting research – and VA can’t turn the lights on, much less accept visitors.

During the Committee’s oversight hearing in March, VA acknowledged that design errors and omissions, changes in medical equipment and procurement delays, as well as VA oversight and management failures led to serious construction delays. 

In fact, Glenn Haggstrom, who is also our VA witness today, in response to questioning, stated that “Brasfield and Gorrie’s credentials in constructing health care facilities are second to none” and “I am not placing the blame on Brasfield and Gorrie at all.  We fully recognize that we did have problems …”   

The end result was a commitment to work diligently and collaboratively with the contractor to complete construction and begin serving the veterans and families of Central Florida expeditiously. 

Yet the intervening months have brought more finger pointing and little progress. 

It is perplexing that as recently as June, the Department provided a Fact Sheet that began by stating that “VA is working collaboratively with the prime contractor to get construction completed as soon as practicable,”

Yet, concluded with the statement that VA “… has issued a Cure Notice to B&G citing the contractors [sic] inability to diligently pursue the work and to provide suitable manpower to make satisfactory progress.”

Today, VA will testify that the Medical Center is sixty percent complete and on track to open in 2013.

However, since January, VA has been telling us that the Medical Center is sixty percent complete and on track to open in 2013.

Even though the contractor has repeatedly stated that construction is not sixty percent complete nor is VA’s timeline realistic.   

My single interest is the expeditious completion of this facility for the veterans of Central Florida who have been waiting almost a decade for the new medical center to open.  

What this community is capable of is clear - just look at our surroundings this morning. 

It is time for VA to finish what it started here so many years ago.

Today I want answers as to how we are going to accomplish this for our veterans. 

Again, I thank you all for joining us today.