Work could begin as soon as next year on a 374-acre veterans cemetery east of Colorado Springs as Congress moves forward with a measure to pay for the $36 million project.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, visited the site on Drennan Road on Wednesday and said the cemetery cash has stuck in early versions of a 2017 budget bill.
"I'll make sure it stays in the budget," he pledged.
Local veterans have pushed for a national cemetery in Colorado Springs for nearly two decades.
The Department of Veterans Affairs closed a deal for the cemetery land in 2014, but the project has languished in the absence of construction cash.
"Finally," said Vic Fernandez, an Army veteran who has led efforts to push for the cemetery for 17 years.
Steve Best, who heads VA cemeteries in a nine-state region that includes Colorado, said design work on the cemetery is ahead of schedule.
"We're about halfway through the process," he said.
The land, just east of the Colorado Springs Airport, features sweeping views of Pikes Peak and mountains as far south as the Spanish Peaks.
Best said the cemetery will be designed to maximize the views.
"This is going to be a very, very special place," he said.
The $36 million will buy the first phase of the cemetery, which will be the final resting place for up to 13,000 veterans. The agency said it plans as many as 20 burials a day at the site for decades to come.
Lamborn praised work by the Department of Veterans Affairs on the cemetery while still voicing ire over the agency's handling of heath care at its Colorado Springs clinic.
The VA's most recent report showed long waits continue for veterans seeking care at its Fillmore Street clinic, with nearly 29 percent of veterans waiting a month or more for appointments. That's a slight improvement over the 32 percent of veterans who waited a month or more for care in November.
Lamborn said he's pushing for hearings on the woes of the Colorado Springs clinic.
But the House Committee on Veterans Affairs has bigger plans, he said. The panel led by Florida Republican Jeff Miller is working on a plan to throw the book at VA leaders during a hearing by lumping the problems in Colorado Springs with similar issues found at other clinics.
"This has been going on all over the country," Lamborn said.
Lamborn began calling for a hearing in February after a report released by the agency's internal watchdog showed that workers at the Colorado Springs clinic had falsified paperwork on wait times.
For 28 veterans waiting for primary care appointments, scheduling shenanigans showed they were given same-day appointments, but in reality they waited an average of 76 days, investigators found.
VA blamed the problem on improper training and no workers were disciplined.
Lamborn said the VA has made some effort to clean up problems at the clinic since the report. But the Republican remains unimpressed.
"Every time they say they have made steps forward, we still have complaints rolling into our office," Lamborn said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240