December 30, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft

I need to know what to do. I am wheelchair bound from a service connected disability. I have a HUD VASH voucher but I don’t see any handicapped accessible apartment that I can rent in Boston and no landlord is agreeable to modifying their property to accommodate my disability. Can you help?
Thank you,

Simplice
Via the internet

Dear Simplice
I suggest you contact the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA Medical Center in Boston who likely will be able to assist in your attainment of suitable living quarters.

Shaft Notes
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has begun a two-year pilot to study innovative approaches to quickly search electronic medical records and medical literature for relevant published studies. During the pilot, VA will assess how the technology may accelerate evidence-based clinical decisions.

“Physicians can save valuable time finding the right information needed to care for their patients with this sophisticated and advanced technology,” said Interim Under Secretary for Health Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. “A tool that can help a clinician quickly collect, combine, and present information will allow them to spend more time listening and interacting with the Veteran.  This directly supports the patient-centric medicine VA is committed to delivering every day.”

The IBM Corporation was selected to provide the system which uses its “Watson technology” made famous on Jeopardy In 2011. Today, IBM is working with several healthcare organizations to apply Watson’s cognitive capabilities in helping doctors identify and analyze cancer treatment options. Learning about the opportunities and challenges these next-generation technologies may have is part of an ongoing effort for VA to advance the quality of healthcare provided to our Nation’s Veterans. During the pilot, clinical decisions will not be made on actual patient encounters, but instead will use realistic simulations. The notice can be found here:

https://www.fbo.gov/notices/1e9767c0e2880cf2e4ce98f75b113efa

For more information, visit http://www.va.gov/health/.

A Department of Veterans Affairs hospital project near Denver came to a standstill this week after federal judges ruled the VA was in breach of contract, hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and devoid of a plan to adequately fund the facility.

The billion-dollar project is one of four large VA construction plans that in recent years have faced cost and schedule overruns, as well as scrutiny by legislators and government auditors. The agency is moving to upgrade its facilities amid the growing number of veterans returning from more than a decade of war.

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled Tuesday that Kiewit-Turner, a construction partnership, could walk away from its agreement to build the Aurora, Colo., facility, canceling a contract mired in failed negotiations, blown timelines, and allegations of inadequate planning and budgeting by the VA.

“We find that the behavior of the VA has not comported with standards of good faith and fair dealing required by law,” a three-judge panel wrote. “The agency does not have sufficient funds to pay for construction of the entire project as currently designed and has no plans to ask for more money.”

The VA hasn’t detailed its plans for finishing the hospital, which is 62% complete.

“VA’s senior leadership is in discussion with Kiewit/Turner’s senior leadership to find a potential way forward in light of the ruling by the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals,” a VA spokeswoman said in a statement. “VA is committed to building this replacement hospital,” she said earlier.

“The VA has contacted us, but we’ve not received any specific proposal on how to move the project forward,” said a spokesman for Kiewit-Turner.

The project, which covers more than one million square feet, was designed to serve nearly 83,000 veterans and be a premier VA facility for Colorado with research and clinical wings. It was seen as a major upgrade to the existing Denver VA hospital, established in 1951.

In 2010, Kiewit-Turner signed on to a type of contract the VA hadn’t used before, according to court documents. It allowed for construction to take place even as planning and design hadn’t been finalized. The original agreement was for the VA to provide blueprints for a roughly $600 million facility, and for the contractor to remain in budget.

From the start, however, the design led to cost overruns, including designs well above the standard for a health-care facility, according to the contract board. VA management problems led James Lynn, a top employee at the VA’s construction manager for the project, to describe it as having “the least effective and most dysfunctional staff on any project that he had ever seen,” according to the contract board. Mr. Lynn couldn’t be reached for further comment.

Cost estimates kept rising even as the VA didn’t provide complete plans to the contractor or allow substantive cost-cutting measures, according to findings in the board’s decision. Kiewit-Turner warned the price could hit $1.085 billion but kept building for fear the VA would blame the contractor for delays, according to Kiewit-Turner and an official familiar with the project.

In April 2013, Kiewit-Turner asked the VA contracting officer if it had the right to suspend work on the project. The VA didn’t give the company permission to do so. By June 2014, the contractor had sunk $20 million of its own funds into the facility and now has $100 million in the project, Kiewit-Turner said.

“The contract is broken, both legally and practically,” Kiewit-Turner said in a statement Tuesday, and the company will “immediately cease all work on the project and begin a safe and orderly process to secure the site.”

In a letter to the VA, Kiewit-Turner said it needs to be paid all outstanding costs and the project should be turned over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to oversee its completion.

The VA declined to comment beyond its statement.

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