Pedro 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.