The proposed site of the new VA medical facility in Louisville, next to the city of Crossgate and the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway

Sen. Mitch McConnell announced Monday morning that President Donald Trump would request more than $400 million in his upcoming budget to “fully fund” the construction of the replacement Veterans Affairs medical facility in Louisville, which was first proposed over a decade ago.

The Senate majority leader indicated that Trump “personally assured” him that these funds would be in his 2020 budget to be released later this month, which McConnell said was being done at his request. Such appropriations would have to be approved by Congress.

According to McConnell’s news release, Congress has appropriated roughly $450 million for the project since 2008 to replace the current Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Zorn Avenue. These funds facilitated the purchase of the greenfield property near the intersection of Brownsboro Road and the Watterson Expressway — which was given final approval from the VA as the new hospital location in 2017 — as well construction designs completed last year.

Though McConnell said Monday that more than $400 million would “fully fund” the project, last fall a spokeswoman for the Robley Rex VAMC told Insider that total estimated cost for the project was $925 million, which “still requires congressional appropriation of remaining $775 million budget to complete Medical Center Facilities.”

The spokeswoman, Judy Williams, did not immediately reply to an email to see if McConnell’s figures were correct.

This Brownsboro location for the new VA medical facility has not been without controversy as the project dragged on for over a decade, related to both how this property was selected and purchased, and its appropriateness for that neighborhood.

A report by the VA Inspector General in 2015 found that an improper appraisal process led to the federal agency overpaying for that property by $3 million. That report was cited in a lawsuit filed by the neighboring city of Crossgate against the VA in 2018, seeking to stop construction at the site and accusing the agency of an illegal and biased site-selection process.

That particular location has also been criticized by neighboring residents and some public officials as being as an ill-suited site for a large medical facility, citing the already congested traffic in the area and its distance from many of the VA staff that work and study at the University of Louisville.

The former council member and Republican candidate for mayor Angela Leet was one of the most outspoken critics of the Brownsboro location, while the current lieutenant governor candidate Gill Holland also advocated for the VA to reconsider and choose a spot in west Louisville, where it could economically revitalize the area.

Mayor Greg Fischer expressed concerns about the site to the VA in late 2016, suggesting that Louisville had “other sites worthy of the VA’s consideration,” while Sen. Rand Paul in 2017 asked the VA to meet with the UofL president to discuss the alternative of using the downtown Jewish Hospital as its replacement VA hospital.

Officials with UofL had long advocated a downtown location for a VA hospital due to its proximity to specialty care units and UofL medical staff, who make up the majority of physicians who treat VA patients.

While Sen. McConnell and Congressman John Yarmuth have refrained from explicitly endorsing the Brownsboro location, both have criticized the long delay in the project and praised the final approval of the location in 2017 as moving it one step closer to reality.

“This has been a long time coming, but this is a huge step forward for this important project,” stated McConnell in his news release.

“Kentucky veterans, who have served our country so bravely, deserve to receive quality health care in a new, modern facility,” he continued. “As Senate Majority Leader, one of my top priorities is to support our nation’s heroes, especially the more than 300,000 veterans who call Kentucky home. They have been waiting far too long for this medical center, and I am pleased we are now one step closer.”

Asked about McConnell’s announcement, Yarmuth gave a statement to Insider indicating that while being in the president’s budget request doesn’t mean it has been appropriated, “I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to make sure the funding is included in the final spending bill approved by Congress.”

Mayor Fischer’s spokeswoman Jean Porter told Insider in a statement that “there was controversy over the location, but that’s been settled, and the Mayor is pleased that the funding is apparently on the way to make this a reality.”

Representatives for Sen. Paul did not immediately return an inquiry from Insider about McConnell’s announcement.

This story has been updated.

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]