The benches are back.
Less than 24 hours after 7 On Your Side reported that benches outside the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center had been removed, a forklift appeared to reinstall them.
Veterans who seek treatment at the Northwest D.C. facility had previously been forced to sit or stand under a small awning or in a hot parking lot after the benches were removed. Hospital officials said Thursday in a statement that they had been taken away as the facility developed a new Front Drive plan.
No concrete answer was given as to why the benches were removed while the plan was still in development though, and by Friday, they were back.
In a statement, hospital officials said Friday that patient comfort and safety is their top priority and they're "working diligently to enhance the patient experience."
"When completed, our front drive plan will alleviate congestion and improve the comfort and safety of Veterans and visitors," officials said. "We are currently preparing the campus for inclement weather which includes removing trees and relocating external seating around the entire campus to more sheltered areas.
"Veterans awaiting rides are encouraged to wait in the comfort of the atrium where it is cool and there is adequate seating.”
The last month, though, was a rough go for the numerous veterans who go to the hospital on a regular basis.
"It was a pain in the 'you know where' to stand here for half an hour and wait for the bus," Hyman Shapiro, a World War II veteran, said.
A place to sit was a pleasant surprise for many veterans, more than a month after hospital officials say the benches were removed in the name of safety.
"They should have left them," Vietnam veteran Ron Wroblewski said. "There's no place to sit down and wait for your ride. I don't know why they took them away."
Officials from the Veterans for Foreign Wars were pleased to hear of the return of the benches.
“We understand the hospital’s stance that this was part of an overall renovation plan," Ryan Gallucci, the VFW's deputy director of National Legislative Service, said. "We would encourage hospital administrators to quickly come up with an interim solution to make sure veterans – many of whom are at the hospital because they are ill, injured or disabled – have reasonable accommodations while they wait for their ride."