Disabled vet plate not enough to avoid a parking ticket

Posted Dec. 29, 2009, at 8:49 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Korean War veteran Haddy “Phil” Hamm, 76, who uses a walker or cane to get around nowadays, recently parked his van with its disabled veteran plates in a handicapped parking spot at Hannaford on Broadway and went inside to buy groceries.

When he came out, he found a $200 parking ticket tucked underneath the windshield wiper that indicated he had parked illegally in the disabled-restricted spot.

“I caught [the parking enforcement officer] before he left the area, but he wouldn’t back off,” Hamm said. “He said you have to have that blue [International Symbol of Access] card put up on your mirror” to park in handicap parking.

“I told him, ‘That’s bull,’” the Bangor resident said. “I parked in the handicapped parking area and I have a handicap plate. It says, ‘disabled veteran.’ It really teed me off when [the officer] said the plate was no good.”

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Hamm took the ticket off his windshield and went directly to the police station. After he explained the situation to a woman at the parking ticket counter, she took the ticket and said, “I’ll rip this up,” he said.

Hamm then made his way over to the Bangor branch of the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure he had the correct plates. After waiting in line for about an hour, he said, the clerk who helped him told him he should not have been given a ticket, but gave him two blue placards displaying the International Symbol of Access, which is a rolling wheelchair, to prevent any future problems.

He now is using the disability placards, “but it’s put a burden on me,” Hamm said. He is stressed “that I’ll forget” and get another ticket, he said.

Hamm said he joined the U.S. Army in the early 1950s and was hurt in 1952 in Korea, but remained in the Army until 1955 when he was discharged as a corporal.

“I was paralyzed, but I worked at Eastern Fine Paper for 20 years, between 1955 and 1975, before my condition got so bad” that he had to retire, he said.

According to state law, the disabled veteran plates are given to military veterans who have “certification from the United States Veterans Administration or any branch of the United States Armed Forces as to the veteran’s permanent disability and receipt of 100 percent service-connected benefits. A disability placard is issued in addition to the disabled veteran registration plate at no fee.

“These special designating plates must bear the words ‘Disabled Veteran,’ which indicate that the vehicle is owned by a disabled veteran,” the law states.

Another portion of Maine’s motor vehicle law states that if the secretary of state issues a removable windshield placard, it must be hung from the rear view mirror or placed on the dashboard if there is no mirror while the vehicle is parked in restricted parking zones.

“They are given it and they should know to display it,” Roger Hawkins, registration section manager for the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, said Tuesday.

To get a disabled license plate in Maine, applicants, military or not, must include a letter from a physician that states their disability limits or that it impairs their ability to walk, the law states.

Basically it means that “I can’t walk 200 feet without taking a rest,” Hawkins said.

A person with a disability also could be someone who needs assistance from another person or who uses a brace, cane, crutch, prosthetic device, wheelchair or other assistive device; someone who is restricted by lung disease; who is on portable oxygen; or who has a cardiac, arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition that limits their physical abilities; or someone who is recovering from childbirth, the law states.

Disability placards are issued to those with disabled veteran registration plates, Hawkins said, adding that the plate alone is not enough to avoid getting a parking ticket.

“Having a plate with a flag on it doesn’t give you the right to park there,” he said. “You need the wheelchair placard. If you park in a place marked with a wheelchair symbol, you have got to have that international system displayed.”

People can get disabled veteran plates marked with the wheelchair symbol, which eliminates the need for an additional placard, Hawkins said.

Hamm said he never got a placard from the state when he recently got his disabled veterans plates, but state records indicate he was issued one on Nov. 19, Hawkins said.

“What upset me was when he [the officer] said those plates aren’t worth nothing,” Hamm said. “I got hurt for those plates. They are good.”

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