Administrators at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center said a new on-site parking garage will open April 1.
The garage is expected to alleviate a severe shortage of parking spaces and growing frustrations among many of the 100,000 veterans who seek treatment at the medical center.
An investigation by the News4 I-Team in August 2018 revealed patients with severe mobility difficulties making long and challenging walks from remote parking spaces to the medical center entrance. The construction of the garage is also blocking a swath of parking spaces at a facility that’s long been notorious for limited parking.
The I-Team watched Jonathan Warwick, a Maryland veteran, climb a small hill in the parking lot to get to his car. Warwick requires a walker to move because of a fractured spine.
“It’s been so long that they’ve been rebuilding this parking lot. Sometimes if I have a noon appointment, I’ll leave [for the medical center] at 8 a.m.," he said.
A spokeswoman for the medical center said, “The Patient and Visitor Parking Garage will be complete March 31 and parking will be available to Veterans April 1.”
The I-Team has learned the agency will deploy a concierge and shuttles in the garage to help patients with mobility challenges, because elevators will not be functional by April 1.
A spokeswoman estimated elevators will be completed and approved late this year.
An internal VA study of accessibility challenges released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals agency officials have long been aware of the parking challenges in D.C.
“Even for the able bodied it is ‘a hike’ from car to front door,” the study says. “A visitor must walk in the drive aisles through parking lots or on grass around parking lots because the only sidewalks are up at the building perimeter. For disabled patients this is an unacceptable deficiency.”
Army veteran Sequoia Pointer of Waldorf, Maryland, said the valet system offered by the medical center requires patients wait 30 to 60 minutes before they deposit their cars. Pointer uses a motorized scooter as he recovers from the effects of a stroke.
“I give myself two hours [to find parking],” he said. “If I start doing the valet, it’ll be two and a half hours.”