EDITORIAL: VA subcontractors' payments still MIA

2013-07-18T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: VA subcontractors' payments still MIA nwitimes.com
July 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It is just shy of two years since the Adam Benjamin Jr. Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Crown Point opened. Since then, the medical staff has been healing patients in the facility, which is nearly twice the size of the old building. But festering financial wounds remain untreated.

An estimated 20 subcontractors say they are still waiting for about $2.4 million in payments for work they did on the new building.

They have been pursuing lawsuits and liens against the property, and their impatience has been growing.

Subcontractors recently gathered for a court-ordered attempt at mediation, but little was resolved.

Scott Steel Services of Crown Point has racked up $15,000 in legal bills so far in an attempt to collect more than $130,000 the company is owed, President Robert Scott said.

Gatlin Plumbing and Heating Co. of Griffith is suing over $81,500 the company is owed.

Like others, Gatlin's uncompensated work on the clinic cost the company money rather than providing a profit.

"You assume nothing like that would happen when you're working on a building that's for the federal government. It's just kind of sad," Gatlin Secretary-Treasurer Clara Murphy told Times business writer Joseph S. Pete.

Dealing with the federal government can be frustrating under normal circumstances, and more so in this political climate.

But this isn't a dispute with the federal government, even though it was a Department of Veterans Affairs project. It's between the developer, the contractor and the subcontractors. 

The VA leases the clinic from its owner, Crown Point VA. As a tenant, the federal government isn't a party to the fiscal feud. That's not to say there aren't lessons to be learned, however. 

"There ought to be a law" is a common response when frustrated, and U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., knows that as well as anyone else.

Visclosky has asked for language in future appropriations bills that requires the VA to work with reputable contractors that fulfill their work on time and pay subcontractors in full.

That's not much solace for subcontractors still waiting for payments for work done on the VA clinic in Crown Point, but Visclosky is right to try to forestall future conflicts like this.

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