Pimping the VA

Aug 22, 2012 at 5:00 am

It’s a decision that will live in infamy — counterintuitive, scandalous, batshit crazy. After what U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called an “exasperating” six-year wait, the Department of Veterans Affairs opted to build a new veterans hospital on the vacant “Midlands” site near Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway. What’s more aggravating is the rotten result of a process that stinks to high heaven.

The Courier-Journal recently exposed how investors led by Jonathan Blue of Blue Equity LLC pimped the process. They purchased the property for nearly $5 million in 2004, got it rezoned and sold it to the VA last month, amid a long-depressed real estate market, for a staggering $12.9 million.

While the county property valuation administrator hasn’t seen fit to raise the site’s assessed value since 2004, the VA’s appraiser — as if to say, “Kiss my math!” — inflated it by factoring in asking prices for local commercial and residential parcels.

Experts are perplexed; taxpayers are vexed. When C-J reporter Chris Otts petitioned to see the appraiser’s fuzzy math, the VA coyly stalled. Curiously, McConnell, who routinely decries “The Curious-Journal,” intervened to release the document.

It was an unflattering development for Blue, a political contributor to Mitch, which raises the question: Why would McConnell act to dislodge a document as embarrassing as a photo of a donor humping Uncle Sam?

Don’t get me wrong. Our country was founded on greed and treason. Gaming the government is the American way. But to profit $8 million at the expense of our veterans’ health care seems a bit predatory. By all appearances, it was supremely legal, contemptible and unconscionable.

Nevertheless, Blue is “especially gratified that” the site “will be used for such an upstanding purpose,” according to a written statement that surely resonated with patriots. McConnell, not to be upstaged, issued his salute to the “facility, which will ensure that the men and women who bravely served our country will receive the quality health care they deserve … and I’m pleased the VA secretary made the decision.”

It’s a decision he urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to promptly prioritize in a letter claiming “that he (McConnell) hadn’t taken a position on where the hospital should be built,” according to the C-J.

McConnell echoed the denial in a May interview with WHAS-TV: “I don’t think any of us (elected officials) took a decision on location … You make some people happy and some people sad, but you make decisions and you move on.”

What’s sad, senator, is that the vast mass of our veterans prefer the site of the existing VA hospital. “As we all know the present Zorn Ave. location … is perfect” except for lining the pockets “of real estate brokers, land owners and politicians,” retired Col. Joseph C. Kopacz wrote to the C-J.

While McConnell moves on, many veterans and East End residents remain fixated on why he and other leaders did nothing to stop the addition of a hospital and gridlock to a notoriously congested intersection.

VA contractors hired to control the damage can barely pretend it won’t get worse. During a meeting at the Clifton Center last Wednesday, Brent Hussong of design firm Perkins & Will told a crowd of 100, “We understand that there’s traffic here. We understand that there will be more traffic here … We have worked directly with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to develop strategies in order to mitigate the terrible problem you’re having right now.”

Area residents doubt any feasible road improvements would ease the flow of traffic, which could increase by as many as 3,000 vehicles when the 110-bed hospital with 1,700 employees opens (tentatively in 2018).

Congestion is a subset of the horrors that face residents of Crossgate, the neighborhood next to the site. They fear that noise, pollution, bright lights and the shadows of towering structures also may compromise their quality of life and devalue their properties. A chief concern is the uncertain scale of the complex, widely considered too large for its 35-acre tract. The need for a second entrance to the campus, in the event of a fire, may impact the area, Hussong said.

Crossgate neighbors hope legal negotiators can preserve enough pastoral bliss without litigation. They’re averse to a protracted war against the VA. Time is an unlikely ally given six years has yielded a decision so wrong. That incredible sucking sound you hear is parasitic greed, a vacuum of leadership and the choke of a bitter pill.