HURRICANE HARVEY UPDATE: For more information about the impact on VA facilities and services, click here.
Houston VA to alleviate red tape for Veterans needing urgent care away from home
If you are a Hurricane Harvey-affected Veteran and needing urgent care, go to your nearest provider and VA will take care of the bill through the VA Choice Program.
“I got a call on Monday stating there was a patient stranded in a place with no VA facility nearby and needed assistance,” said Annapurni Teague, associate chief of staff for outpatient care, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “I knew we had an extraordinary event on our hands and had to make a decision quickly and in the best interest of our patients.”
Teague verbally approved the patient to receive care and worked with Houston VA’s Care in the Community team to get relevant information so they could formally authorize care and pay for the services.
Dr. Teague said if a Veteran affected by Hurricane Harvey displaced by his/her home presents with urgent care to a local provider, VA will pay for it under Choice under the Unusual and Excessive Burden category.
“If we receive word that there is a Veteran with this need, we put the wheels in motion immediately,” said Teague.
Veterans needed care should let Houston VA know which clinic they are going to and “we will take care of the rest,” said Teague. It’s one step during the recovery effort that will provide Veterans with more options and access points for receiving care for a wide array of illnesses and injuries in a timely manner.
“We are thrilled to have this ability to provide care seamlessly and quickly for those patients that need urgent care during this time,” said Frank Vazquez, director, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “Increasing VA access and availability of care during this recovery time is crucial. We realize some of our Houston Veterans may be residing with friends, family or shelters throughout the country and they need to know the VA continues to be their provider of care.”
VA Mobile Vet Centers deploy to support Harvey evacuees
On Friday, the San Antonio Mobile Vet Center deployed to Houston to provide counseling services to Veterans and the community affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Three clinicians will be present with the center in Houston. The Mobile Vet Center is available daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time at the NRG Arena, 1NRG Park in the Blue Section.
On Aug. 31, VA deployed the Lawton Mobile Vet Center to Dallas to provide counseling services to those onsite there. Local Vet Center staff from the Dallas, Mesquite, Arlington and Fort Worth Vet Centers, along with three staff from the Lawton Vet Center are in Dallas to provide support to evacuees at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center “mega shelter.” The Mobile Vet Center is located at City Hall Plaza, 1500 Marilla St. and is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time.
VA operates 80 Mobile Vet Centers nationwide to enhance all three primary Vet Center functions of outreach, direct service delivery, and referral. The mobile centers are 38-foot community outreach vehicles equipped with two confidential counseling rooms where counselors can meet privately with those in need. VA personnel are on hand to provide crisis counseling and benefits referral. Find out more about the Vet Center program at www.vetcenter.va.gov.
Central Texas VA nurses give of themselves to support Houston VA
VA has one, unifying mission: to care for those who have borne the battle. Nearly 700 staff sheltered in place at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston when Hurricane Harvey’s impact began last Friday. They worked tirelessly through the storm. Now, some relief is arriving form 25-plus fellow VA nurses and technicians from the Central Texas VA Health Care System.
“Seeing the devastation on television and knowing what they were going through,” begins Joletta Phillips, a registered nurse with the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System. “And, VA staff wanted to stay and take care of Veterans.”
“I want them to be able to go home,” says Phillips. “…to be with their families.”
By Patrick Hutchison, public affairs specialist, Central Texas Veterans Health Care System
Stories of VA Houston: In face of disaster, cardiac cath team present for duty
Dr. Anita Deswal is the chief of cardiology at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. She shared this story.
In the face of the Harvey disaster, everyone at the Houston VA pulled together with great leadership and team work. It is with grateful heart, that I give a shout out to my entire cardiology team. The full team was present throughout the disaster.
Everyone stayed onsite at the hospital from Friday, Aug. 25, until this Tuesday, Aug. 29, in case we could not make it back in order to take care of CCU/cardiology patients in the hospital and do emergency procedures in the cath lab.
Throughout the storm, we performed cardiac caths, stents, pericardiocentesis, pacemaker placement, Transesophagel echocardiograms as if nothing along the lines of a major hurricane and flooding was taking place right outside our doors.
The only disruption our patients experienced was not being able to go home due to road situations. The critical care unit nurses were in house here for many days as well providing excellent care to our Houston VA patients.
I am so fortunate to work with such a wonderful and dedicated VA team.
Navy tradition keeps staff motivated through the storm
On some Navy ships, chaplains are known to go around after meals in the middle of the night and bring morale boosting mid-rations — “midrats” for short — to the sailors on watch.
That tradition continues at the Houston VA with chaplain Gregory McCrimmon. This week, with a full staff sheltering in place, McCrimmon made the rounds during late evenings delivering “midrats” to the medical teams and staff working disaster response and taking care of Veterans.
For those on the late watch, this small gesture of helped them make it through the storm.
Houston National Cemetery resumes operations
On Thursday, the Houston National Cemetery reopened following Hurricane Harvey. The cemetery’s staff of 27 is busy working to make sure the facility is ready to to serve as a national shrine Houston area Veterans and families. Despite the storm, the cemetery did not sustain significant damage.
The Houston VA National Cemetery is the second largest national cemetery in the region, encompassing some 419 acres in northwest Houston.
Mobile Medical Unit deploys from West Texas VA to support hurricane recovery
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Big Spring, Texas, four West Texas VA Health Care System employees, led by Dawn McCright, emergency manager, headed north to aid Veterans affected by Hurricane Harvey. Their mission: deliver the Emergency Management Mobile Clinic to Dallas for later deployment to a flood affected area in Houston.
“West Texas was fortunate to be spared the devastation left in Hurricane Harvey’s wake,” said Kalautie JangDhari, West Texas VA director. “When the opportunity came to help our fellow Texans and Veterans, members of the team enthusiastically raised their hands to volunteer.”
The initial plan for the deployed team is to transport the mobile unit and train others who will join the team in Dallas. Staff from El Paso, Amarillo and Big Spring VA sites will run the mobile unit on a rotating basis. The team consists of a registered nurse and medical support assistant with a provider who is accessible by real-time secure interactive video conferencing.
The mobile clinic is equipped with two examination rooms with tele-health equipment located in each.
“We’re estimating that the unit will return to Big Spring in two months, said JangDhari. But we will gladly have it remain in service as long as it’s needed.”
By Kristina Schaefer, communications specialist, West Texas VA Health Care System.
Up-and-running: Victoria Outpatient clinic gets back to serving Veterans
The minute Harvey loosened its grip on Victoria County, a team dispatched by the South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) got to work assessing, and repairing any damage done to its Victoria Outpatient Clinic by the catastrophic storm.
Victoria, Texas, which has a population of 62,000, was hit hard by the storm forcing voluntary evacuations and a city-wide curfew. The city is also home to a robust Veteran population of 3500. The entire city lost power and water for several days.
With most members of the VA assessment team being Veterans themselves, they viewed it as a mission, and themselves as the boots on the ground. They got to work instantly determining what they were up against.
A clinic that normally runs at full capacity, was eerily quiet, with shadowy exam rooms and medical equipment cloaked under plastic. The electricians broke off and began the process of connecting two mobile generator sets they brought to the site. The first generator was up within a few minutes bringing power to half the building.
The dedicated crew went through the building literally top to bottom, marking what damaged rooms would be useable for the return of services on August 31, and which ones would require additional cleaning and repairs.
Once the building was deemed safe, it put the team on schedule to get the clinic reopened on August 31. Backfilled with staff from San Antonio, the Victoria Outpatient Clinic was successfully opened one week after Harvey rolled in, seeing about 20 patients those first few hours.
VA clerk, Gretchen Watson, whose husband went south to Refugio, Texas, to help family with their own property damage, stayed behind. “It’s good, it’s good to be back,” said Watson. “Although I’d like to be down there helping my family, I’d rather be helping Veterans here.”
By Steven Goetsch, public affairs specialist, South Texas VA in San Antonio, Texas
Sky is the limit: Patients arrive at Houston VA via helipad
Typically patients enter the VA through the front door, but in emergency situations helicopter transport is a necessary mode of transportation. Vietnam Veteran Herman Gipson, a dialysis patient from Beaumont, Texas, was recently airlifted to the Houston VA due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
“I drove five ton trucks in convoys during Vietnam,” said Gipson. “Myself and three fellow Veterans I served with in Vietnam all receive dialysis together from the same clinic in Beaumont. We were unable to get there during the hurricane.”
Serving in Vietnam from 1968-1969, Gipson was life-lined via FEMA helicopter on Thursday evening from Beaumont to the Houston VA Medical Center’s helipad. Thankfully, VA staff was ready for his arrival and grateful to provide him the treatment he needed.
Over the weekend, another Coast Guard helicopter was seen hovering over the Houston VA Medical Center. Staff noticed it, realizing the helicopter needed a place to land. It was directed to the Medical Center helipad and clinical staff rushed out to unload a patient and assist. The non-Veteran patient needing immediate stabilization was brought into the medical center for treatment.
“In this situation, Veteran or not, our job was to provide immediate medical attention to the patient,” said Sherri Almeida, head nurse on duty. “We are here and ready to serve.”
Once VA personnel stabilized the patient, he was transported to a local hospital where he needed additional treatment.
“Our nurses and medical providers have given of themselves in so many seemingly insurmountable ways,” said Kelly Irving, chief nurse, Houston VA. “As a nurse and leader, I don’t think I have ever felt more proud to be in this profession and part of this organization.”
Helipad, front door, it doesn’t matter how they enter. Once on site, Houston VA has and will continue to be there for all in need.
By Jessica Jacobsen, public affairs specialist, Dallas
VA Valley remains vigilant throughout Harvey
Communications to patients started on Thursday, Aug. 24, when Valley veterans were notified that the Corpus Christi Outpatient Clinic would close on Friday due to Harvey’s soon landfall. All forecasts pointed to a major hurricane affecting the Coastal Bend Sector.
“We began preparing supplies and materials for distribution, and steps were taken to secure the Corpus Christi Outpatient Clinic, the Corpus Christi Annex and the Corpus Christi Specialty Clinic by using sandbags for the entrance and exits, and sheathing for electronic and medical equipment,” said Perez. “Our patients were contacted and rescheduled.”
Going even further, VA homeless case managers reached out to known homeless Veterans in the Coastal Bend Sector, and if unable to contact via telephone visited apartments to leave hurricane-prep information. Geriatric and Extended Care contracted facilities began either transferring Veterans to a safe location or sheltered in place.
Harvey landed and Corpus Christi watched as flooding and heavy rain poured into the coast of Texas.
Corpus Christi Specialty Clinic reopened on Tuesday, Aug. 29, to receive primary care and specialty care appointments.
“We were grateful for a VA Mobile Medical Unit that was moved from the McAllen Outpatient Clinic to Corpus Christi to help us care for Veterans with unscheduled visits,” said Perez. “Our outpatient clinic continues to remain closed as it is being inspected for damage. But we are moving providers into the Annex building next to the outpatient clinic to help provide seamless care. Thankful to say we were and continue to be there for our veterans.”
“We have been grateful for the outpouring of support from other VA facilities to help provide a virtual Mobile Vet Center in addition to our mobile unit, as well as the Veterans Canteen Service Emergency Unit providing free meals to employees and Veterans,” said Perez. “But a huge shout out to the staff of our entire VA Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. Your dedication and support to Veterans and each other has not gone unnoticed.”
VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System has also activated the Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan for Veterans displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Eligible Veterans needing an emergency supply of non-controlled medications, and who cannot make it to a local VHA facility, can receive a temporary supply at their local CVS or HEB pharmacy. Veterans needing this assistance should call the Heritage Health Solutions Veterans Help line at 1-866-265-0124 to determine the closest participating retail pharmacy near them, and ensure they have what will be needed to obtain an emergency supply. Read more online at https://www.texasvalley.va.gov/.