- Associated Press - Sunday, February 16, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Long awaited but beset by delays, the VA Medical Center at Lake Nona likely will not see its first patients before 2015.

From the outside, the sprawling 65-acre campus, the centerpiece of the Medical City, seems close to completion, but inside, large areas remain unfinished. Some areas have walls that are just frames without wallboard. Other areas are carpeted and painted, ready for equipment to be moved in.

Construction was originally set to be completed in 2012, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now it is tapped for near the end of this year, about six years after the Oct. 24, 2008, groundbreaking ceremony.

“That date has been changing monthly,” said Lawrence Tucker, activations coordinator for the medical center. “The latest date the contractor has given is December fifth.”

It will then take about three to four months to get furniture and equipment installed before the first patients can be seen in the outpatient center. It could take even longer before any patients are admitted to the hospital.

But the VA said that it is in constant negotiations with the contractor, Brasfield and Gorrie, and the schedule could be adjusted again.

The VA faults Brasfield and Gorrie for the delays, and the company blames “VA incompetent administration” and “numerous design changes” for the slowdown.

Veterans said that regardless of who’s to blame, they have been waiting long enough.

“There is a sense of anticipation, but there is not surety,” said Bill Vagianos, president of the Brevard Veterans Memorial Center.

The $665 million, 1.2-million-square-foot complex will have a 134-bed medical center that will serve veterans in a 10-county area, including nearly 70,000 from Brevard. It also includes a 120-bed nursing home and an outpatient clinic, and will offer most health care services except open-heart surgery, neurosurgery and transplants.

The VA Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction said it is on budget and was even able to return $40 million from the project.

Brasfield and Gorrie paints quite a different picture.

“A project such as this requires full and open cooperation of all parties, however, the Lake Nona project has been seriously hampered by delays and inefficiencies resulting from the VA’s incompetent administration, numerous design changes, critical information and failure to make crucial and timely decisions,” the company said in a statement.

“Because of changes, there are $65 million to $150 million in work that the VA has not paid Brasfield and Gorrie for,” the company said. “This has led to delays in payments to subcontractors, but Brasfield and Gorrie is paying their subcontractors out of pocket.”

Vagianos said that veterans he hears from are resigned to the fact the VA is going to do things its way, and they will just have to wait.

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