GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Colorado Sen. Mark Udall is urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make better use of a $14 million upgrade to the surgical unit at Grand Junction Veteran Affairs Medical Center after it was cleared during an inspection of safety issues.

The surgical unit's designation was downgraded from intermediate to standard in 2011 after an internal study showed increased infection rates among patients. However, a review of the study determined the increased rates were based on incorrect figures.

Upgrades to the surgical unit completed in the past two years include the addition of four operating rooms, an intensive care unit and a sterilization-processing room, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported Saturday.

The VA promised the center would again offer surgical procedures within two years, Udall wrote in a letter Friday to Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki.

"When fully operational, this state of the art surgery suite will vastly expand the capability of skilled VA surgeons to serve the growing rural veteran population in western Colorado and eastern Utah," Udall wrote.

"We owe it to our veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our country to ensure that they have access to quality health care and do not have to travel hundreds of miles for medical procedures. But because of a technicality which the Department of Veterans Affairs has acknowledged, the Grand Junction VA Medical Center is unable to perform critical surgical procedures," Udall said in a news release.

In response to the senator's letter, Grand Junction VA Medical Center spokesman Paul Sweeney said it would be up to the Washington VA office to respond, and that office said it would not be able to respond until Monday.

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