By Gordon Boyd, Reporter
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Few would disagree with James Goss’ view of the Robley Rex VA Medical Center on Zorn Avenue.
“It’s antiquated, it’s outdated,” said the former Staff Sergeant, who served eight years in the Army during the Vietnam era, though not in theater. “We need a new facility.”
The discord comes in where it would go.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Goss said.
East-Enders beg to differ. Dozens attended a public meeting on Nov. 15 to question the Environmental Impact Study examining traffic and other issues at the preferred site: adjacent to exit ramp from the Watterson Expressway onto Brownsboro Road.
“It would be in my back yard, but I’m not a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard),” Irene Yeager told WAVE 3 News then.
In such objections, Shawnee’s Pamela Stevenson sees opportunities.
“Why not west Louisville?” asked the veteran who came home five years ago, retired a full Colonel after 27 years as an attorney in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Stevenson is among several leading the charge to welcome what many of their cross-county neighbors reject.
The groups hosted Thursday’s Town Hall at the Ray Parker Economic Enrichment Center, located at Maple and South 15th Streets, to gauge how many of the 60,000 who call the nine neighborhoods comprising the West End home, would buy in rather than launch a counter-attack similar to those that helped kill deals for a Walmart and FoodPort.
“I would like to have it closer, to where veterans can get the benefits and services that they need,” Stevenson said.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky, Third District) was pitching that even as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs spent $30 million to buy the East Jefferson County site, conduct the required studies and commission renderings depicting how the proposed $923 million full-service campus would hold as many as 3,000 patients and medical personnel.
Yarmuth has championed South 18th Street and West Broadway, which may have become a more viable option after the deal to build a Walmart Supercenter there collapsed in October.
Others have favored 30th Street and West Muhammad Ali Boulevard, formerly touted for a West Louisville FoodPort, which died in August.
“The VA would bring jobs. There’s a cottage industry that grows up around it,” Stevenson said.
“(The potential is) that people working at a VA hospital would also spend dollars in the area, even if they don’t live in the area,” said Jennifer Recktenwald, interim director of OneWest, a group advocating revitalization and new development in West Louisville.
“I’d like to see them open it up to where I could go to Clark Memorial, or one of the local hospitals,” said Goss, a southern Indiana resident who belongs to Post 35 of the American Legion in Jeffersonville. “Avoid the VA Center altogether.”
President-elect Donald Trump might give veterans that opportunity. Two of his four reported finalists for Secretary of Veterans Affairs favored full or partial privatization of medical care and support; soon-to-be-former Florida Congressman Jeff Miller and veteran Dave Hegseth.
Other potential nominees are former Governor and Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin (R-Alaska) and Massachusetts’ former U.S. Senator Scott Brown. Several published reports have listed Brown as having the inside track.
Air Force veteran Stevenson maintains that privatization would never fly.
“When we say ‘charge the hill,’ we don’t mean after the coffee break,” she laughed.
Reality is that time is short. Project Manager George Odorizzi acknowledges that the Brownsboro site remains the VA’s preferred choice, with hopes to break ground in early 2018.
“That presumes availability of funding,” Odorizzi conceded in an interview with WAVE 3 News Nov. 15. “Something that needs to be appropriated in a future budget year.”
At least three current or future members of Louisville Metro Council attended Thursday’s Town Hall.
Tenure in court and in uniform tells Stevenson that victory often goes to the swift and to the strong.
“We must move quickly to give someone – the decision-maker – pause,” she said. “To say, ‘Hey, let’s stop for a minute and rethink this.’”
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