Sen. Tom Coburn, who is at odds with Sen. Jim Inhofe over funding for a new Veterans Affairs hospital in Tulsa, said Thursday he would make sure Tulsa gets a better facility, but not the “Taj Mahal” envisioned by the VA.
“We’re going to build a new facility,” Coburn said in an interview. “We’re going to do what’s right for the veterans and we’re going to get out of that cramped facility.”
Coburn agreed that the Tulsa VA center needs more and better space, but said the department had not done the kind of thorough analysis necessary to serve Tulsa-area veterans and maximize taxpayer dollars.
“They’re building a Taj Mahal when they should be building a medical clinic,” Coburn said. “They’re building what they want when they should be building what they need.”
Coburn, R-Muskogee, is a key player in the current effort in Congress to revamp VA medical care to cut down on wait times for appointments — and the manipulation of data regarding those wait times.
Coburn co-authored the Veterans Choice Act, which moved through the House and Senate this week; he will be on the committee that writes a final version. The legislation was combined with parts of another bill that included funding for 27 clinics nationwide, including Tulsa.
Coburn removed the Tulsa project from the legislation and said Thursday he did so because the proposal was flawed. He said he and his staff also were looking at the other projects in the bill.
The Tulsa plan calls for spending more than $13 million to build a new facility or modify one; then, according to Coburn’s office, the space would be leased by the VA for nearly $6 million annually. The space will cost an estimated $40 per square foot, with a 4 percent annual increase, according to Coburn’s office.
He said Thursday that his staff was able to find an alternate location in Tulsa that could be refurbished as hospital space and leased for $14 per square foot. There is adequate parking at the site and more than twice the current space, he said.
Donelle Harder, spokeswoman for Inhofe, said Thursday, “Senator Inhofe believes the lease cost can be resolved without eliminating funding for Tulsa altogether and is looking forward to working with Senator Coburn to find that solution and also secure the funding the clinic needs to keep its doors open.”
Inhofe has stressed that the current lease for the Tulsa VA center expires in 2020 and that the lease cannot be renewed. If there is a delay in constructing new space and the Tulsa center shuts down, veterans would have go to Muskogee for care.
They’re building a Taj Mahal when they should be building a medical clinic. They’re building what they want when they should be building what they need.”
Sen. Tom Coburn,