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

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.

The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider whether military personnel can be prosecuted for rape long after the crime occurred in an appeal by President Donald Trump's administration of a lower court ruling that overturned the rape conviction of an Air Force captain.

Read More Show Less

Little girls everywhere will soon have the chance to play with a set of classic little green Army soldiers that actually reflect the presence of women in the armed forces.

Read More Show Less

My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."


Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

Read More Show Less

The leader of a Chicago-area street gang has been arrested and charged with attempting to aid the ISIS terrorist group, the Department of Justice said Friday.

Jason Brown, also known as "Abdul Ja'Me," allegedly gave $500 on three separate occasions in 2019 to a confidential informant Brown believed would then wire it to an ISIS fighter engaged in combat in Syria. The purported ISIS fighter was actually an undercover law enforcement officer, according to a DoJ news release.

Read More Show Less

U.S. military officials may have abandoned their dreams of powered armor straight out of Starship Troopers, but the futuristic components of America's first prototype combat exoskeleton could eventually end up in the arsenals of both U.S. special operations forces and conventional troops.

Read More Show Less