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Veterans care center’s builder wins judgment

A federal claims judge awarded the builder of the downtown veterans care center an $18 million judgment Wednesday, saying the building was safe and could have remained occupied while crumbling walls were repaired.

The Department of Veterans Affairs had no immediate comment, but a regional spokesman in Los Angeles said the decision by Judge Thomas C. Wheeler might be appealed.

In his 44-page opinion, Wheeler wrote that Veterans Affairs breached the lease for the Guy Ambulatory Care Center by vacating the building at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Vegas Drive without allowing Moreland Corp. to correct construction flaws.

“The building was entirely safe for occupancy,” Wheeler wrote, noting later that the move to other facilities in 2002 was $4 million per year more costly than had Veterans Affairs remained in the building.

The building since has been taken over by a communications company.

But other problems plagued the building, and it was too small to accommodate the Las Vegas Valley’s fast-growing veterans population, according to Nevada’s adjutant for Disabled American Veterans, Bill Anton.

“You could smell fecal matter throughout the entire place,” he said Wednesday, reacting to the ruling by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. “The company should have gotten it fixed and didn’t, and that’s why the lease was terminated. It was poor construction.”

As a result, veterans have been using a valley-wide system of health care clinics or going to out-of-state VA facilities while a $600 million VA hospital is being built on the valley’s north side. Completion is expected in 2011.

Jeremy Becker-Welts, an attorney in a firm that represented Moreland Corp., said the construction company offered to expand the Guy Ambulatory Care Center but “nobody was interested.”

“It was sort of a perfect storm where you have too many veterans,” Becker-Welts said of the lease termination that allowed Veterans Affairs “to go to Congress and say we need money to build a hospital.”

“Getting a new hospital is great, but they certainly went about it the hard way,” he said.

One veteran from Henderson, Morley Gordon, said that he has been inconvenienced by the satellite clinic arrangement and that, in his view, Veterans Affairs wasted $4 million on it instead of continuing services at the care center.

“I’m really mad,” he said.

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