Thursday, April 21, 2011
Metro columnist Dan Casey: Disabled veterans deserve a place to park
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Read Dan's blog
Bob Hambrick of Roanoke got blown up by a land mine in Vietnam. It broke more bones in his body than not, and since 1970 he's been a fully disabled veteran.
Now 63, Hambrick remembers well his six or so visits to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regional office back in 2009, after 11 months of treatment for cancer.
The memories are not fond ones.
He was weak from radiation and chemotherapy and he had a bad foot, the result of another surgery.
Hambrick needed to use crutches for each of those visits, for the purpose of updating his VA records. But there was no handicapped parking for veterans at the Poff Federal Building in downtown Roanoke.
All of the Poff's parking spaces are reserved for federal employees. Sometimes the pay lot across Franklin Road was full.
So Hambrick would park his car down on Luck Avenue near Oakey's Funeral Service, almost three blocks away. On his crutches, he'd struggle up a short hill along Third Street, past First Baptist Church, then down to Franklin.
Eventually he'd make it to the Poff Building, where he'd wrestle with the revolving doors. They're no fun when you're winded and wielding crutches.
"To be honest with you, it hurt," Hambrick told me Tuesday. "Sometimes, I didn't think I was going to make it."
There's been no handicapped parking at the Poff Building or any other federal courthouse since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
And here's a little detail that perhaps has gotten lost in all of the teeth-gnashing and recriminations over that building's pending $51 million (or more) renovation: There still won't be any parking for disabled veterans once the work is done.
This has raised the dander of Joe Dannel, 64, another partially disabled veteran who lives in Vinton. He asked an interesting question: Why can't the feds move the VA regional offices to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center complex in Salem?
It would be a one-stop shop for veterans. There's plenty of land there. A new office building for the VA probably would cost far less than the Poff Building's controversial makeover.
And there could be close-in parking reserved for disabled veterans.
U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the fiercest critic of the Poff renovation, said it's not that simple.
The VA regional office employs 428 workers in downtown Roanoke.
"I've spent years trying to keep downtown Roanoke vibrant," said Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County. "And one of the ways to do that is to keep workers downtown."
Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the regional VA office, said the idea has been considered, but rejected by the General Services Administration in Washington, the keeper of the Poff Building, the VA medical complex and other federal property. Thompson said he couldn't elaborate on that decision Wednesday.
Let's assume for a minute there are many great and wonderful reasons for keeping the VA offices in the Poff Building.
What about creating some parking for disabled veterans as part of the renovation?
It's not going to happen, Thompson said.
"I was told by the GSA that there will not be designated handicapped parking around the building because of homeland security requirements following 9/11," Thompson said. No other public parking either.
The VA has applied to the city to create three handicapped spots along Jefferson Street, outside the former Stone Printing building. It's one of four temporary offices the agency will occupy during the Poff renovation. But once VA workers move back into Poff, disabled vets will once again be out of luck.
When you think about it, this is a pretty good indicator about the value this country places on its military veterans.
We pay them some homage on Veterans Day, but most of the rest of the time we forget them.
They put their lives on the line, and in return all they want is for this country to deal with them half-decently. Instead, we treat them like a little kid who whines for more candy. We act like we wish they would shut up.
They can't even get a handicapped parking space outside a VA office after a $51 million (perhaps more) renovation.
I'm just struck by the image of Bob Hambrick, the disabled vet and cancer survivor, parking outside Oakey's on Luck Avenue and struggling on crutches over to the Poff Federal Building for his appointments.
Don't he and the area's other disabled vets -- at the very least -- deserve a nearby parking space?
Dan Casey's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.