One veteran’s view: Houston VA parking worse than ever

Yesterday I hit the big 6-0. I suppose now that I am officially an old man means I should be grumpy. Well, I’ve got new for you. I’ve been grumpy for a long time now.

One matter which gripes me today that has pissed me off for a number of years now is the parking situation at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.

It has been quite awhile since veterans who use the Houston VA hospital were told of progress in, if not alleviating the parking problems, making a dent in the chaos which now seems worse than ever. In 2013, the head of the Houston VA hospital crowed about how well the parking situation has been handled by instituting a valet service:

“First and foremost, we encourage all Veterans coming here for an appointment to take advantage of our free Valet Parking service,” said Adam C. Walmus, the Houston VA hospital director.  “The Valet allows Veterans to exit their vehicles in front of the Medical Center and come right in.  You really can’t beat that.”

Can’t beat it, huh? Why yes you can, Doctor. You can beat it all to hell and we will likely keep seeing the same old, same old problem.

Houston VA Hospital: The more things change the more they look like things.
Houston VA Hospital: The more things change the more they look like things.

When one walks up to the main entrance of the hospital a long line of non-moving automobiles is the first thing that is seen. That would be your valet parking. That sight, plus another vision greeting patients is the number of seemingly disorganized individuals who wander around like lost geese and who are looking for the car they are to take to the valet parking lot. Those would be your “valets.”

The parking situation confronted upon driving into the hospital complex is not “us vs. them” but instead, “patients vs. employees.” It appears that half of the parking spaces is for the employees with another area for various transportation and doctors close to the hospital. Then there is the valet parking in which the lost individuals seen at the entrance turn into dangerous-looking people who seem as if they would start banging on your car if you even thought about entering their lot.

Then, there is the patient lot. Actually, it is more than one lot, or so it appears, but nothing is in certainty there because there is usually only one gate with cross arms open. Most of the time, well, some of the time, a patient can take a ticket from the dispenser, the gate opens and you can park. Some of the time. And then after an appointment, the clinic where you see a medical person will validate that ticket. Some of the time. More often than not there is a VA police officer who will let you in so that you may park. Some of the time.

I give the preface “Some of the time” because it is honest. Prior to an appointment a couple of weeks ago, I spent 45 minutes driving around in circles within the parking lot. Luckily, the clinic I went to had understanding staff. It was at my appointment where a couple of nurses said patients were not the only ones doomed to a parking lot hell. These employees said they both will have to drive around for minutes at a time in order to find a space.

If the patients can’t find a place to park and the nurses can’t find a place, then who can park?

I became so upset driving endlessly around that day I finally called the VA police, who are over parking. I had once sent a complaint about the parking and a sergeant called and told me that things were improving. That was a couple of years ago. This time another lady, I don’t remember her name or title, actually came out to help me find a parking spot. I don’t know if her action came from actual concern or if it had anything to do with my statement that I was about to call the Houston TV stations and have them out here to do a story.

The unnamed lady finally had the police let me through a barricade and I was able to park in a spot that was set aside for emergency room visitors. There was a limit of 30 minutes of parking in that spot but I was told not to worry. That didn’t stop me from worrying, of course. But when I reemerged a couple of hours later, my truck was still parked there, unmolested.

I don’t know why parking has grown so out of control at the Houston VA. Maybe many more veterans are being seen, something I have heard but have not yet verified, or the person or persons responsible for the “improvements” in the department of parking affairs were incompetent. Maybe there is are a little bit of both factors at play combined with those forces of which I do not know. That is certainly possible because the VA has become a seemingly less transparent agency than in the past.

A new multi-space garage is supposedly under construction. It was seen some time ago as if it was the answer to all problems. Although, it might just be that the facility could become obsolete as soon as it is finished.

I don’t know if it ever occurred to those in charge of the hospital or its parking that having to drive around in circles for nearly an hour is definitely not helpful for one’s mental health. I am no doctor, but I would guess such stress can’t be healthy for a patient’s physical well-being either. Just as I am chewing on a piece of jerky right now, perhaps those folks in charge of parking or the hospital or both need to chew on this problem for awhile. Or might I say, may they might need to do even more chewing.




If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.