'They Can Count On Us:' Houston VA Hospital Withstands Harvey, Prepares For Aftermath

news
The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston
Photo via Department of Veterans Affairs

When Hurricane Harvey lashed southeast Texas on Sept. 1 and brought punishing rain and devastating floods for days afterward, the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in downtown Houston remained open, operated by about 700 staff members who made the facility their temporary home.


Hospital staff members were sleeping on floors or small cots in their offices or in a small auditorium, Dr. SreyRam Kuy, the associate chief of staff at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, described Wednesday in a post on the VA’s website. Some of them weren’t certain if their homes were flooded, while others saw news footage of their neighborhoods under water.

They stayed to care for about 400 veterans who remained at the hospital, which is also serving as a shelter for homeless veterans and others.

One former U.S. Army Ranger swam through flood waters to reach the hospital on Aug. 28, where he was treated for a burst appendix, The Associated Press reported.

“He knew that no matter what, the VA would be there to care for him,” Kuy wrote about the veteran. “It’s humbling to know that [veterans] feel they can count on us to be there.”

In an email to Houston employees Tuesday, VA Secretary David Shulkin said their actions were “heroic” and hinted at a possible deluge of veterans in the area seeking help in the aftermath of the disaster. More than 500,000 veterans live in the areas affected by the Category 4 hurricane and the tropical storms that followed, including more than 175,000 veterans who are enrolled in VA health care.

“We know the days and months ahead will require continued diligence to ensure our veterans receive the best services we can provide,” Shulkin wrote. “I know you are up to the task.”

Shulkin said Wednesday the hospital was “fully stocked and ready to stay in operation.”

As Harvey made its last landfall in Texas and Louisiana on Wednesday, 20 VA health care providers from Dallas, 25 from Austin and 15 from San Antonio traveled to Houston to provide some relief, according to reports from The Associated Press and Austin American-Statesman. The Austin VA sent a busload of supplies, and Shulkin said seven truckloads of food arrived Tuesday night from Dallas.

A volunteer team of VA staff at the Little Rock, Ark., VA hospital established a 24-hour call center to answer questions and concerns of veterans in southeast Texas. The call center in Houston was closed over the weekend because of the storm. In one hour, Little Rock staff answered 256 calls, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Eight VA community-based outpatient clinics and two veterans centers in areas surrounding Houston remained closed Thursday afternoon. The extent of the damage to the facilities remained unknown.

“Once the storm ends, we will be in apposition to assess any longer-term impacts on our facilities and programs in the area,” VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said in a statement.

VA officials were warning veterans to stay in a safe location and only go to the Houston hospital if they had urgent medical needs. The VA enacted its disaster relief plan for pharmaceuticals, which allows veterans with VA identification cards and a prescription to receive a 14-day supply of medication at any CVS or HEB pharmacy.

Mobile veterans centers opened in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Dallas on Wednesday to offer counseling to veterans and others affected by the storms. Another mobile veterans center was preparing to travel Friday to Houston.

On the afternoon of Aug. 31, Shulkin traveled to Texas with Vice President Mike Pence, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke. Before leaving Washington, Shulkin said in a statement that he would meet with first responders and “make sure that veterans are being cared for down there.”

He’s also praised President Donald Trump for the federal government’s response to the disaster.

“The president showed his leadership on this right from the beginning,” Shulkin said. “Every Cabinet member participated in this coordination to make sure we were prepared.”

———

©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Chief Mass Communication Spc. Keith DeVinney sleeps between exercises during Fleet Combat Camera Pacific's Winter Quick Shot 2013 combined field training exercise in the Angeles National Forest near Azusa, Calif., Feb. 17, 2013. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair)

(Reuters Health) - Soldiers who experience sleep problems during basic combat training may be more likely to struggle with psychological distress, attention difficulties, and anger issues during their entry into the military, a recent study suggests.

"These results show that it would probably be useful to check in with new soldiers over time because sleep problems can be a signal that a soldier is encountering difficulties," said Amanda Adrian, lead author of the study and a research psychologist at the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.

"Addressing sleep problems early on should help set soldiers up for success as they transition into their next unit of assignment," she said by email.

Read More Show Less
The Armed Forces Service Medal has a green, blue and yellow ribbon and a bronze medal featuring a torch like that held by the Statue of Liberty. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Thousands of U.S. service members who've been sent to operate along the Mexico border will receive a military award reserved for troops who "encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent hostile action."

The Pentagon has authorized troops who have deployed to the border to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since last April to receive the Armed Forces Service Medal. Details about the decision were included in a Marine Corps administrative message in response to authorization from the Defense Department.

There is no end date for the award since the operation remains ongoing.

Read More Show Less
Photo: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

A former sailor who was busted buying firearms with his military discount and then reselling some of them to criminals is proving to be a wealth of information for federal investigators.

Julio Pino used his iPhone to record most, if not all, of his sales, court documents said. He even went so far as to review the buyers' driver's license on camera.

It is unclear how many of Pino's customer's now face criminal charges of their own. Federal indictments generally don't provide that level of detail and Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson declined to comment.

Read More Show Less
Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

It all began with a medical check.

Carson Thomas, a healthy and fit 20-year-old infantryman who had joined the Army after a brief stint in college, figured he should tell the medics about the pain in his groin he had been feeling. It was Feb. 12, 2012, and the senior medic looked him over and decided to send him to sick call at the base hospital.

It seemed almost routine, something the Army doctors would be able to diagnose and fix so he could get back to being a grunt.

Now looking back on what happened some seven years later, it was anything but routine.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army Cpt. Katrina Hopkins and Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers, assigned to Task Force Warhorse, pilot a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) operation at Camp Taji, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Javion Siders)

U.S. forces must now ask the Iraqi military for permission to fly in Iraqi airspace before coming to the aid of U.S. troops under fire, a top military spokesman said.

However, the mandatory approval process is not expected to slow down the time it takes the U.S. military to launch close air support and casualty evacuation missions for troops in the middle of a fight, said Army Col. James Rawlinson, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.

Read More Show Less