12 On Your Side accepts an invitation to 'ride along' and talk about parking at McGuire VA Medical Center.
The tour was informative. The VA was glad we came out and says, it's a great way to get information to their patients.
"(How big is McGuire VA medical center?) It's about 130 acres. So it's a big area," said Public Affairs Officer Darlene Edwards.
Approximately the size of 130 football fields. So when one of America's heroes complained to us about parking and walking great distances to get inside...
"I paid my dues being in the service, but they don't seem to care. It's just not right," said disabled veteran Larry Pollard.
The VA first issued a statement and then decided they needed to do more to set the record straight. We rode along for a campus tour.
"We have parking issues that we're working to manage and resolve. We understand that," said Edwards. "We are proud to care for more and more veterans and active duty service members and growing programs and with that we are addressing the parking needs."
Three grassy areas will soon become parking lots, creating roughly 125 new spaces. Visitors and patients will see more center parking too.
There's also talk of adding a second shuttle if they can find volunteers to drive and work extended hours. One shuttle isn't enough. It took us several minutes to chase down this one from the opposite end of the campus.
"By late summer, we're also going to be addressing our valet service. It's going to be with some efficiency and some improvements. A new valet service is coming," said Edwards.
Pollard says valets illegally jam cars in handicap spaces to get more cars in the lot closest to the entrance. The VA says that's been resolved.
"Now it's clear to the valets and police that this should be accessible to handicap spaces," said Edwards.
While Pollard is critical of valet parking, the service has its supporters.
Edwards says wheelchairs can be found at all four entrances, even though some wind up abandoned in the parking lot.
Lot 2a, the valet overflow lot where Pollard has parked for 12 years, will become a general parking lot in three weeks, but Pollard can keep parking here.
At least until 2014, then this lot will transform again. A parking deck, new buildings, more services, the VA is seeing exponential growth - and, about 50,000 patients.
Call 804 675-5455, if you have an issue. It wants to fix concerns, before they become frustrations.
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