I shot with the first generation 70-200 VR also but I really didn't have any issues. I think the softness in corner "thing" is a bit blown up out of proportion in the true Internet fashion. Who really places important subject way in the corner anyway??
I had to really think, if I ever had any "issues". The only concerns I ever had were two and they are quite minor. One, the way I hold my lens, I tended to turn the focusing ring and it being a full-time manual override lens, it can shift the perfect auto-focus out of focus. Two, it's quite handful to hand hold, and the tripod bracket (even if I remove the shoe) gets in the way.
But really, it's a great lens.
For portrait, I tend to use 105VR f/2.8 Macro more. It's also a heavy and chunky lens but much more suitable for hand-holding. Again, it's wonderfully sharp, fast, and predictable.
What's your goal? You said it's probably the lens you "need".... how did you determine that? Do you have a chance to borrow or rent one? I did before I made my purchase.