Hurricane Michael made history Oct. 10 as one of the most powerful and largest hurricanes to ever make landfall in Northwest Florida. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ emergency response to Hurricane Michael may have made very similar history for the department.
In a ‘tent city’ sectioned off in a Panama City Walmart parking lot, many VA trailers, tents and vehicles house an evolving, multidisciplinary team that’s growing by the day, ready to serve Veterans affected by the powerful hurricane. The VA’s response mission became operational Monday.
Sonya Stokes-Sumrall, Veterans Integrated Service Network 16 emergency management officer, who serves as the incident commander, is eager to support the Bay County Veteran community that has been devastated by Hurricane Michael’s record-setting winds and storm surge.
“I want every Veteran in this community to know that we are ready to provide holistic medical services, readjustment counseling and other support to them,” Stokes-Sumrall said. “We have a great team of VA personnel here from across the country, and we are here ready to serve.”
Stokes-Sumrall said the services here will operate from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and they’ve seen a steady stream of Veterans wander into the compound looking for support, as word travels through the community that VA is ready to help.
“We saw 23 Veterans on the first day (Monday), then we ramped up to about 90 Veterans served on Tuesday,” Stokes-Sumrall said. “Today (Wednesday) we are at about 48 served.”
Stokes-Sumrall expects the VA emergency response team to swell to nearly 100 VA personnel over the next few days. The Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, Mississippi, is the “host” VA Medical Center for the team, which has augmented the response team with clinical and other support from the nearby Panama City Beach VA Clinics. VA Vet Center staff from region are present to support Veterans, too.
Both Panama City Beach VA Outpatient Clinics on Magnolia Avenue and R Jackson, opened on Monday, October 8, 2018, and are operating on a normal schedule, according Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System Director Bryan C.
Matthews. “I cannot say enough about the resilience of our employees in that area,” Matthews said. “To have gone through this event, many experiencing losses of their own, yet they continue to show up and serve Veterans each and every day. They are truly going above and beyond.”
Patrick Card, who is a VA area emergency manager, and is serving as Stokes-Sumrall’s deputy, is proud to serve and ready to help Veterans get their lives back on track. “We’ll be here supporting our Veterans until someone tells us it’s time to go,” Card said.
About the author: Jerron Barnett is a Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System public affairs officer.