Helping Our Veterans in Sandy’s Aftermath

Headshot of author Richard Allen SmithPedro Correa has been in many situations where he thought things could suddenly go horribly wrong.  He’s spent thirteen years guarding New York’s most violent criminals at the state’s maximum security, Sing Sing correctional facility, rising to the rank of sergeant.  When he was a first responder on September 11, he would have run into the second tower had a bloodied man not stopped him for assistance first. When he was performing convey security in Iraq in 2003 as a soldier in the 773rd Transportation Company, enemy mortar fire fell as close as 100 yards from his truck. But according to Pedro, he never felt certain he was going to die until the night of Oct. 29 of this year. That was the night, with Hurricane Sandy battering the home Pedro remodeled with his own hands, “the shack we turned into a mansion,” as he calls it, Pedro called his wife to say goodbye.

That night, after having sent his wife and children away in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, Pedro and his brother watched as the house was torn apart by the violent storm surge. With water levels rising, the two men climbed, and then swam, up two flights of stairs. The brothers then broke the legs off the kitchen table and used it as a raft. When the tabletop sank, the brothers managed to cling to a neighbor’s roof as it floated by.  That rooftop became entangled to debris, prompting the men to hop from board to board until ultimately they were forced to swim, even with Pedro’s broken rib. Half an hour later, they were finally taken in to safety at another home.

By the time Sandy’s winds blew past Pedro’s Staten Island community and her flood waters receded back into Lower Bay, he had lost $150,000 worth of possessions, the home he turned into his own by hand, and was still responsible for a $450,000 mortgage.

At VA, we first learned of Pedro and his family when Allison Hickey, our undersecretary for benefits, saw a report about his family from NBC News on Nov. 9. Undersecretary Hickey put her staff on the case and we were able to track down Pedro with the help of Ann Curry and the NBC News team.

That afternoon, Mrs. Hickey placed a personal call to Pedro and his family. She also put him in contact with Mike Frueh, VA’s Director of Loan Guaranty Services, who spoke with Pedro that same day. We were able to coordinate with the Correa’s property insurer and FEMA to help expedite the payment for his loss. VA had already directed banks to offer extended forbearance to Veteran borrowers affected by Sandy, and we were able to contact Pedro’s mortgage lender and helped him receive additional forbearance on his mortgage, which will help him pay for the rental home the Correa’s are residing in to remain close to their children’s school. We also were able to help Pedro file a claim for disability compensation and have that claim expedited.

When I spoke to Pedro, he indicated that he was quite pleased with the assistance he’s received from VA. Of Undersecretary Hickey, a retired Air Force brigadier general, Pedro said “I’ve known lots of officers, none that have held a rank as what she has, and none that were more personable or who care more than she does.”

Hurricane Sandy devastated entire communities across the Northeast. We know that the disaster affected many Veterans throughout the region and we’re doing everything we can to help all Vets who were affected. If you were impacted, make sure you check out this information on keeping up with you benefits. We’re remaining in touch with the Correa family to make sure they have everything they need to make it through this ordeal, and we’re dedicated to making sure every other Veteran is taken care of as well.

If you’d like to help out Pedro’s family, you can contribute to their fundraising drive here.

Richard Allen Smith is a Web Communications Specialist for the Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Richard served on active duty in the United States Army from 2003-2008 and deployed to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division in 2007.

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8 Comments to “Helping Our Veterans in Sandy’s Aftermath”

  1. Elijah Asher says:

    This is a very nice story about how VA was literally forced to respond to this veteran, Pedro Correa, only because his plight made “national news” on NBC on November 9, 2012. VA even had the personal assistance of NBC news anchor Ann Curry in “tacking down” Mr. Correa. You mean, VA did not know how to contact him because he was not in the VA system currently receiving services? Yes, that is why. The same reaction by VA has occurred only in other such stories that were forced upon by VA by major national or state level news media exposure.
    What is even more alarming is that this veteran was “offered” personal assistance by VA Undersecretary Allison Hickey to file an apparently new “disability claim.” And then even have his alleged new disability claim “expedited.” Why does his post-storm deprivation issues allow Mr. Correa have his personal disability claim “expedited” when there are over one million other current war veterans who have no such home, mortgage, home insurance, or other material possessions or advantages, when their claims have languished for as many as 10 years? All major home insurance polices have forbearance and disability clauses written into them. But VA here gets to claim its efforts of extraordinary response only for itself to claim a laudable effort to end Correa’s plight. What about all the other veterans whose disability claims precede Correa’s by years on end? Nothing for them. They rarely get national news media coverage.
    This is consistent with past VA public relations “spin-control” practices where it might come out that VA shamelessly mishandles the disability claims of hundreds of thousands of so many other truly disabled, serivce-connected veterans. Mr. Correa states he remodeled his near-waterfront $450,000 home “with his own hands.” One wonders what kind of disability he has, in comparison to the other several hundred thousand (read over 700,00) veterans who have “service-connected” physical and mental disability claims pending at the 51 VA regional offices, or in various stages of appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals or the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
    It surely doesn’t sound like Mr. Correa has any real physical or mental disabilities that would allow him to make a genuine claim for disability, especially when he has personally performed significant physical labor to remodel his shack into a mansion of sorts, no matter how much the metaphor.

    • Pedro Correa says:

      I was very proud of this article until I read the comment below it. It is sad that someone with a problem with the VA would personal attack me and call into question my integrity.

  2. Stacy Kay says:

    I’ll start off by saying this. How DARE you, Elijah Asher. How dare you sit there, from the warmth and comfort of your own home, which, incidentally, Mr. Correa fought to protect, and question the level of his disability. Have you been to his physical exams, his psychological exams, or, better yet, have you been to the remains of his home, that lay shattered and destroyed in a marsh???
    Here’s a story of a United States Marine Corp that received a Purple Heart from President Truman for his services at Okinawa. He would sweep the snow off the roof of his house in Pocono Mountain. He was a security guard at a local fishing lake. He did all his own work on his 2 trucks. Most importantly, he was my grandfather. He spent the last of his days sitting on his porch, smoking his cigarettes, and starting off in to space relaxing. We have learned, since his passing, that he never, EVER took off his shirt, because his back revealed the angry raised scars, left by the shrapnel he took. So, while all his limbs and senses work, was he not disabled? He received VA benefits till the day he died, as did my grandmother, who stood by him all those years. Would you question him?
    Mr. Correa has done nothing to you. When he took an oath to protect our COUNTRY, leaving his life on the line as collateral, he was given a promise back. He was promised that when he came home, we would take care of him. He answered our Country’s call for help without question, yet you question his request for help in return? So what if he wasn’t already in the system. He fought to protect your rights, including your right to free speech (which, incidentally, you are grossly misusing right now), no questions ask. Yet you question him in return. Are you enlisted, have you served?
    Please, Elijah Asher, in the future, when you have a problem with a government agency, do not use someone else’s personal pain and suffering to make your point. You are just as bad as those who claim pitbulls are vicious animals, when, in reality, it is people like Michael Vick who are the animals.

  3. Allison Hickey says:

    Mr. Asher,

    I won’t typically respond to a comment of this nature but I feel compelled to do so this time. The reason I contacted NBC News for Pedro’s information is because his last name wasn’t used on the news story. His first and only name given was “Peter.”

    More importantly, Pedro’s story of selflessness and loss during this destructive storm really touched my heart. I saw Pedro trying to comfort his wife as she move through the destruction of their once beloved home. I saw his leadership in his family and his community – helping others. I saw his kind spirit and encouraging heart. Yes, I was personnally struck by what great character Pedro demonstrated in the face of crisis — not once but 3 seperate major life-changing events. I thought for a moment, maybe because of my job, maybe because of my faith – that Pedro was put in my path that day for me to be the actor to make a difference in the life of this particular Veteran that day. Regardless, in assisting Pedro and his family, it reminds me daily that we can make a difference for so many other Veterans – something I am unwaveringly committed to do for all Veterans, their families and survivors — including you if you are a Veteran too.

    Allison Hickey

  4. Mr. Asher,
    I won’t typically respond to a comment of this nature but I feel compelled to do so this time. The reason I contacted NBC News for Pedro’s information is because his last name wasn’t used on the news story. His first and only name given was “Peter.”
    More importantly, Pedro’s story of selflessness and loss during this destructive storm really touched my heart. I saw Pedro trying to comfort his wife as she move through the destruction of their once beloved home. I saw his leadership in his family and his community – helping others. I saw his kind spirit and encouraging heart. Yes, I was personnally struck by what great character Pedro demonstrated in the face of crisis — not once but 3 seperate major life-changing events. I thought for a moment, maybe because of my job, maybe because of my faith – that Pedro was put in my path that day for me to be the actor to make a difference in the life of this particular Veteran that day. Regardless, in assisting Pedro and his family, it reminds me daily that we can make a difference for so many other Veterans – something I am unwaveringly committed to do for all Veterans, their families and survivors — including you if you are a Veteran too.

    Allison Hickey

  5. Juan says:

    We The Veterans don’t have to complain because another Veteran has His or Her claim done faster than Ours, We have damage one way or another in this bad storm sandy and on top of that We had snowstorm, We as Veterans need to support each other not to attack each other, Our time will come, I am upset about my appeal from 2006, it was a claim from 2001 and still waiting, I went to my chain of command VSO then My Representative, it’s hard and depressive to wait so long but what else I can do???? just wait, I know My injuries and illness are real, I was approve for SS this week, after 11 month waiting for SS decision, God bless You all!!!!

  6. Making sure that our veterans are taken care of after a natural disaster is important on many levels. They provided us protection when we were vulnerable and it is only right that we afford them the same protections. Hurricane Sandy brought much devastation to the region and we are only starting to pick up the pieces.