HAVERHILL — It was all a dream.
But thanks to Ted Gaiero’s persistence — the vocal local vet who sought for over a year to make downtown parking free for veterans heading to medical appointments — that dream is now a reality.
Starting last week, the city has begun providing veterans with hang tags for the rearview mirror of their cars before vans transport them to VA hospitals in Boston and Bedford for medical checkups.
Upon their return, the van operators collect the hang tags and the veterans head home.
Gaiero first proposed the plan in January. Since then the city’s Parking Commission consulted with the city’s Veterans Services Director Michael Ingham on a way to implement the plan.
On Tuesday night, the City Council presented Gaiero with a citation for his efforts advocating for the city’s vets. The council also set aside a citation for Parking Commissioner Meredith Warren, who was not present.
“I was approached by Mike Stankovich (Public Works Director) to discuss what we could do. One of the ideas was to provide vans for veterans going in to Boston,” said Ingham.
Before explaining the purpose for van drivers to collect the placards when they return from the city, Ingham added that the pilot run of the program has been successful thus far.
“That way we get to keep a control on it because if you just hand them out they’re going to get lost,” Ingham said of the placards.
David Van Dam, chief of staff for Mayor James Fiorentini, said the city has printed 14 placards, as each van carries seven vets at a time. One of the vans is operated by the city, while the VA clinic on Merrimack Street operates the second shuttle.
It has been a big few weeks for city veterans, as a state funding mechanism has also given the green light for construction of 44 new units of veteran housing near the old Gerson Furniture building at 128 Washington St. The amount of money the state is kicking in for that project has yet to be determined.
Councilors marveled at the speed in which Gaiero’s proposal came to fruition. Thomas Sullivan remarked that he had never thought to use placards, like the city doles out for monthly and yearly parking passes, to also give veterans a break.
“What a nice resolution for something that didn’t take forever to do, since that seems to be a theme lately,” he said.
Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua commended Gaiero for his “citizen inquiry” and called the plan a great opportunity for the city to “serve our veterans who served us.”
“The reason this worked was because it was a good idea. And when you have a good idea, it’s very easy to implement,” said Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, a registered nurse by day, who was sure to give due credit to Gaiero.
The Bradford resident — who has long placed a handwritten note asking parking attendants not to ticket his car when he is out of town for VA appointments — thanked the council for consistently seeking to help the city’s vets.
He recalled the efforts of Sullivan and Councilor Michael McGonagle for coming out from their businesses, during a snowstorm, to help vets get through snowbanks to the VA clinic on Merrimack Street.
“This plan has been two years in the making,” Gaiero said, before proceeding onto other proposals, including doing away with paid parking altogether in the city’s downtown.
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