What looked like a large, patriotically decorated recreational vehicle left the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital campus in Tampa Oct. 12, not bound for a camping trip but rather for a humanitarian mission.
Hospital motor vehicle operator Anthony Jimenez is driving the 46-foot-long, 33,000 pound mobile medical unit (MMU) north to assist with disaster recovery efforts in the area around Fayetteville, North Carolina. The area was hard hit with massive flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew, which brought heavy rain that caused rivers to overflow and dams to break in the central and eastern parts of the state.
The MMU has three medical exam rooms, a wheelchair lift, satellite communications, and is completely self-contained with an electrical generator and toilet facilities. Jimenez is participating in this deployment as part of the Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS), the Veterans Health Administration’s main deployment program for clinical and non-clinical staff to support an emergency or disaster.
“At times of disaster, the fourth mission of the VA is to provide support to our community partners and to our civilian population,” said Travis Garrett, a VA emergency management specialist from Tampa. “Presidential declarations have already been issued for, I believe, 66 counties in that area, so everything that needed to be done to be able to afford the help that the VA is providing has been done. So this is just the first round of getting all these things in place to provide that level of care, whether it be to a Veteran or a citizen.”
Jimenez and the MMU rendezvoused in Fayetteville with VA team members deployed from other areas of the country around midnight Oct. 13 after an almost 700 mile drive. Since VA employees in the area were also affected by the disaster, DEMPS personnel will be used to augment local employees to ensure continuity of health care operations, Garrett said.
Jimenez, who volunteered for this mission, is no stranger to deployments. An Army Veteran, he deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, but this is something different for him.
“I’m feeling anxious and a little bit nervous because I don’t know really what to expect,” Jimenez said. “But I’m mostly excited to do it because I know something of this magnitude has a big impact on our Veterans. I feel like I’m doing something very positive. I know that somebody needs assistance up there, so I can help provide that assistance.”