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Veterans receive parking citations at the new Austin VA Outpatient Clinic. Why?

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In a recent report, Austin veteran Jim Phipps parked at one of the 241 handicapped parking places at the new Austin Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Clinic for his scheduled doctor's appointment. His vehicle had disabled veteran license plates seen here in Austin which contain the letters “DV”. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issues these plates to all Texas veterans who have shown proper authentication of their infirmity. Per Texas law, these plates “provide the same parking rights and privileges as a plate with the International Symbol of Access (ISA).” (i.e., the plate has the wheelchair symbol on it).

However, when he returned to his vehicle, he found a parking citation. This was definitely a puzzle since he had parked in the same type of space at the old clinic for years without any difficulty. He wondered what kind of law had he broken to justify the citation.

Texas law provides DV plates to be issued to any “veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, with a service-connected disability of at least 50 percent, or at least 40 percent due to the amputation of a lower extremity, and honorably discharged, receiving compensation from the U.S. government as a result of such disability.” However, the VA, a federal agency, defines the law differently: these parking spaces are reserved for those who have mobility problems.

DV plates are issued to a much wider group of veterans, many of whom have issues not related to mobility. The VA has stated that, in order to use the handicapped parking spaces, veterans must have either a handicapped license plate or a handicapped placard that hangs from the rearview mirror. Needless to say, for most veterans, this will require a doctor's evaluation, a prescription and another trip the Texas DMV.

Problem #1: the old clinic was patrolled by a private security firm and the new one is patrolled by federal VA police – and federal law trumps state law (i.e., they don't recognize Texas law). Problem #2: patients have not been notified of the change. And problem #3: to date, no information about parking issues appears on the website of the new Austin VA Outpatient Clinic which opened on July 9, 2013.

Granted the citations issued by the VA police are just “warning tickets” at the present time which means there is no financial obligation attached to them. Regardless, 94 of them have been given to unsuspecting patients since January of this year.

The big question is why no notice? With the capability of our government, and the information the VA has on its patients, it seems logical that three things would have made this story moot: (1) send an email to every patient in their database about the change in parking restrictions; (2) place a notice on their website; and (3) have visible signs posted all over the parking lot at the clinic. These things should have been done when the clinic opened last year.

Regarding (2), with the Austin clinic being “the largest, free-standing VA outpatient clinic in the nation”, how difficult an action could it be to put a notice on their website? Their IT guy could do that in minutes. And to make matters worse, a second report affirms that the people in charge of the clinic don't seem to know how to assuage the concerns of those veterans who are still mystified as to what is going on.

Texas veterans dealing with health issues have already obtained what they considered to be their “proper” license plates and are receiving parking citations? This is ridiculous and insulting those of us who have served our country and continue to deal our health issues.

We veterans are shaking our heads at this one and hope that those outside of Austin haven't incurred this same type of situation.

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