While the VA Bay County Vet Center facility and staff recover from Hurricane Michael’s impact Oct. 10, a handful of VA Vet Centers in the southeastern U.S. have deployed staff to keep the Vet Center’s mission going.
During normal circumstances, VA Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, bereavement, and referral services to Veterans and active duty service members who have returned home from combat and their family members. In an emergency response scenario such as the VA’s ongoing mission in Bay County, Florida, outreach trauma care and humanitarian services become a large part of their efforts.
“We have been visiting emergency shelters, churches, supply distribution points, making home visits and more looking for Veterans,” Tim Prendergast, Veterans outreach program specialist from the Augusta Vet Center (Georgia), said. “We are actively out in the community every day, looking for Veterans to help.”
Who they have found are Veterans in peril, short on hope, as the realization of Hurricane Michael’s impact and their circumstances sets in.
“We’ve seen a lot of Veterans who are suffering from anxiety, major stress, and a variety of other issues,” Antika Payne, marriage and family therapist from the Okaloosa County Vet Center (Florida), said. “Some of the Veterans we’ve seen just need someone to talk to. It’s really rough out there.”
Leading the team is Chattanooga Vet Center Director Taz Randles, who explained that part of the deployed Vet Center team’s ongoing responsibility, which consists of Vet Center staff from the Pensacola, Florida; Knoxville, Tennessee; Okaloosa County, Florida; Johnson City, Tennessee; and Augusta, Georgia, “is to make sure Veterans have all the support they need. And, if encountered along the way, we support civilians and their needs, too.”
Michael Tucker, outreach specialist from the Pensacola Vet Center, was among the first ‘boots on the ground’ when the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System’s Veterans Hurricane Michael Medical Station stood up Oct. 14. The Mobile Vet Center vehicle he drives initially served as the command center for the station.
“Since day one, we’ve seen a steady flow of Veterans who needed our help,” Tucker said. “If they keep coming, we’ll keep helping them. This is what we do.”
“I’m very appreciate of the services provided by all Vet Center staff involved,” said Bryan C. Matthews, director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System. “The dedication they show on a daily basis is a valuable asset to have during an event like this.”
Vet Center services are available at the medical station during its operating hours, which are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The station is located in the Panama City Walmart parking lot at 513 W. 23rd Street.
On Oct. 22, the Bay County Vet Center, located at 3109 Minnesota Avenue, Suite 101, in Lynn Haven, Florida, will reopen at 8 a.m. Readjustment Counseling Service will also continue to provide services at the Walmart located at 513 W 23rd Street in Panama City.
About the author: Jerron Barnett is a public affairs officer for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System.