Nunziato: New VA Clinic a Symbol of All Veterans

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When the new Veterans Affairs clinic on Belmont Avenue opens early next year, it will bear the name of Carl Nunziato, a veteran of the Vietnam War, attorney and long-time advocate for both veterans and people with disabilities. 

But the honor, Nunziato says, isn’t about him. It’s about the country’s changing perspectives toward veterans.

When Nunziato returned to Youngstown after serving in Vietnam and losing both of his legs there, the VA clinic wasn’t even that. Once a week, the primary clinic in Cleveland would send a nurse to the city for four hours; all she was allowed to do, Nunziato says, was change bandages and make appointments at the Cleveland site.

Now, though, the Carl Nunziato VA Clinic at 1815 Belmont Ave., will be 35,300 square feet, employ 94 and provide a full range of services, including primary care, mental health services, podiatry, women’s health services and physical therapy. Most recently, developer Michael Downing Realty Ltd. said the clinic would open in February. It’s expected to serve 10,500 veterans annually.

“This is the greatest honor there is, but I have one request: I want it to be a symbol. A symbol of the Vietnam veterans who came back. We changed society. We made the country livable and respectable for our veterans,” Nunziato said Wednesday morning. “That was our mission. We never gave up and we won’t give up. We’ve taken the hill.”

Carl Nunziato

After returning home, Nunziato got a law degree from Case Western Reserve University and has dedicated himself to improving life for veterans and those with disabilities. While a student in the 1970s, he faced hostility from classmates because he had served in Vietnam. Combined with his experiences with the VA – once, he went to the local office hours because his legs were bleeding, only to be told he could make an appointment at the Cleveland VA clinic for 10 days later – Nunziato worked to serve the Valley’s tens of thousands of veterans. He was crucial in getting Youngstown its first VA clinic, which opened in 1991 about a mile north of the new site.

A paraplegic, he also fought to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. As an attorney, he was unable to enter the Mahoning County Courthouse without aid. Throughout the 1980s, he worked one-on-one with area businesses and organizations to install curb cuts. The first was installed on Front Street in downtown Youngstown.

“There was a six-inch curb around every parking lot for water control. That six-inch curb to a person in a wheelchair is like the Great Wall of China,” he said. “Little by little, one by one we got people to help us move and to understand what we wanted. When we did the first one in Youngstown, Dom Baker and I paid for it – $284. People looked at it and didn’t know what it was. That was the starting point and over 15 years, we installed a lot of curb cuts.”

The legislation to name the new VA clinic after Nunziato was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in September and by the Senate earlier this week.

The Carl Nunziato VA Clinic on Belmont Avenue. It is scheduled to open in February.

The clinic will be “Youngstown, through and through,” Ryan said, with a portrait of Nunziato painted by local artist Ray Simon hanging in the lobby.

“While the injury would have set many people back, I think it revealed the true character of Carl Nunziato. If you talk to anyone who served with him, anyone who knows him, anyone who has worked with him, they know that if there’s one phrase to capture his spirit, it’s ‘Never give up,’” Ryan said. 

The honor for Nunziato also had support from U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, both of whom have worked with Nunziato over the years.

“This had unanimous support among the veterans groups in Ohio because of who Carl is and what he stands for,” Ryan said. “For those of us who grew up in this community, Carl embodies the best of who we are: His grit, determination, big-heartedness, the idea of fairness and the willingness to fight for all Americans. He’s a special, special guy. We can’t thank him enough for his leadership.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.