The Washington DC VA Medical Center is apologizing to its patients for a shortage of accessible parking spaces.
An investigation by the News4 I-Team revealed struggles by patients with disabilities to find parking spaces for medical appointments at the giant medical center.
Video and interviews by the I-Team show patients with severe mobility limitations making long, winding walks through car traffic and small hills to get access to the building.
The DC VA Medical Center is the flagship facility in the nationwide health system run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It has more than 100,000 patients and approximately 2,000 employees, but parking spaces are limited on the congested campus along Irving Street NW.
A parking garage construction project is expected to add 460 new spaces once it’s completed in March.
In the meantime, patients and staffers told the I-Team parking can be scarce and challenging during peak hours at the medical center.
“Sometimes if I have a noon appointment, I’ll leave home at 8 o’clock in the morning,” said Jonathan Warwick, a U.S. Army veteran from Gaithersburg, Maryland, who is recovering from a fractured spine and two recently replaced hips.
I-Team cameras captured video of Warwick attempting to walk up a small grassy hill to get access to his car in a parking spot nearly 1,000 feet from the medical center entrance.
“One time my foot got stuck and I fell walking there,” Warwick said. “I told my doctor about it.”
An internal VA study of accessibility challenges released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals agency officials were 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.”
In response to questions from the I-Team, an agency spokeswoman said, “We fully understand the frustration veterans and visitors are experiencing when parking at the facility. We offer our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience the Patient and Visitor Parking Garage construction project may cause.”
“In a good way, business is booming at the VA,” said Heather Ansley, acting associate director of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “A lot of veterans go get their care. But that poses some logistical challenges.”
“If there are complications anywhere along the spectrum, you may have people say, ‘I’m not getting the health care that I really need,’” Ansley said.
The VA study released to the I-Team shows parking challenges exist at more than a dozen other VA facilities nationwide. The study shows additional handicapped-accessible parking spaces are needed at medical centers in Beckley, West Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Officials with the Veterans of Foreign Wars said the agency should be advocating for better funding from Congress for its maintenance and medical center upgrades.
“There’s a backlog,” VFW Associate Director Patrick Murray said. “They simply can’t perform all these tasks on a yearly basis. It would involve a major effort to do so.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones and Jeff Piper.