When news spread of the fatal Kentucky floods affecting five of the state’s eastern counties, Lexington Vet Center Outreach Specialist Chris Eden volunteered for the nearest Vet Center team’s emergency response.

Eden readied his Mobile Vet Center (MVC) to become a “one-stop shop” for Veterans and searched the Census Bureau website for the impact on Veterans.

Within the designated area, Eden found that Veterans made up 4% of the population, higher than average, with 67% of those Veterans listed as disabled.

Five members of Vet Center teams

Frederick Smith, Monica Holland, Jerlunda Wilson, Kristin Gallagher, Witt Cook

Within 36-hours of the disaster, team members from Louisville, Nashville, Johnson City, and Memphis Vet Centers joined the Lexington Vet Center and deployed two Mobile Vet Centers to support hundreds of Veterans and their families affected by the historic flooding.

Mobile Vet Centers provide emergency services

Mobile Vet Centers are large mobile vehicles with space for confidential counseling. They are used to provide outreach to eligible individuals in communities that are distant from existing services. MVCs can also access records through an encrypted connection.

With this capability, MVCs are often called upon to support VA in its mission of providing emergency services in response to national emergencies and disasters.

Army Veteran Eden grew up in rural Kentucky and knows these communities live with hardship. He was still stunned by the scale of destruction. “Can you imagine the fear these people felt?” he asked. “People spoke of waking up at 2 a.m. with water running into their homes and having to climb onto their roof within minutes. Some homes are now sheltering five or six families. People here are used to pitching in to help one another, but this was overwhelming.”

“From one Veteran to another, we got you.”

Eden assured his fellow Veterans at the staging area, “Our team is here to help you. From one Veteran to another, we got you.” Vet Centers are able to work with Veterans and their families to ensure their most emergent needs are met, resources are provided, and referrals to other VA and community organizations are made.

Man adding Vet’s data into laptop

Team consolidates resources for Veterans

“As a VA employee and a Veteran,” said Eden, “responding to Veterans in need is everything I want to be a part of.”

Johnson City (Tennessee) Vet Center Director Monica Holland, a Navy Veteran, assessed what help was needed as she spent a full first day with Veterans. That evening, she prepared a contact list ranging from FEMA representatives to non-profit organizations with direct ties to the area.

“There was an immediate need to consolidate the resources for Veterans,” said Holland. “In some instances, we were working with Veterans who did not have cell phones, an email address, or even access to the internet. Much of the area is very isolated and has minimal resources available under normal conditions.”

From removing mud to scheduling meds refills

Holland divided the list into sections on who to call based on their scope of need. The comprehensive list grew to ten pages and was distributed to Veterans and the general population to aid in securing local, state and federal emergency assistance.

“Whatever Veterans needed,” added Eden. “Whether it was removing mud from a Veteran’s driveway to scheduling a medication refill from VA. We called the contact person from our resource list as we sat with the Veterans. We made sure Veterans had appointments and that they spoke to the right people.”

Witt Cook, Navy Veteran and outreach specialist at the Nashville Vet Center, acquired a cargo van from Tennessee Valley VA as he headed to the area. He opted for the larger vehicle after speaking with the medical center’s Center for Development and Civic Engagement.

Van filled with 110 bags of donated supplies

“It was a last-minute plan, but so many employees wanted to help,” said Cook. “We were able to fill the cargo van with 110 bags of donated supplies.” The donations ranged from paper towels to clothing items.

Deborah Sawyer, Army Veteran and outreach specialist at the Louisville Vet Center, discussed the benefits of sending Vet Center teams as early responders. “Many Veterans are numb after a catastrophic event and it’s hard for them to process feelings when their focus is just getting tangible support like food and shelter. We got Veterans to open up and talk to us. We worked with them to understand what resources were available and how to ask for help.” A Vietnam Veteran hugged Sawyer after she visited him. He thanked her for just listening to him. Sawyer added, “Sometimes all it takes is for someone to know we care.”

Man adding Vet’s data into laptop

Vet center staff helps Veteran affected by floods fill out forms.

As team members work to follow-up with Veterans, Eden wants Veterans to stay connected. “The knowledge we gave them, they can pass along,” he said. For Veterans, the connection, camaraderie and community are important.

Vet Centers provided support to over 12,000 Veterans in 2021

Eden met with a Vietnam Veteran who told him, “No matter what help you can give, just by you being here, I couldn’t be prouder of my service.” Eden responded, “We just want Veterans to give us a chance to show what we are capable of.”

In Fiscal Year 2021, there were 87 MVC deployments for emergency response and COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Across these deployments, Vet Centers provided support to over 12,000 Veterans, 1,100 service members, 1,300 family members, 4,000 civilians and nearly 200 U.S. Capitol Police officers.

Vet Centers provide confidential, community-based counseling, outreach, and referral services for a wide range of concerns for eligible Veterans, service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve Components, and their families.

Visit www.vetcenter.va.gov to find a Vet Center nearest you or call the Vet Center Call Center 24/7 at 877-927-8387.

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Published on Sep. 15, 2022

Estimated reading time is 4.9 min.

Views to date: 528

2 Comments

  1. Sean Collins September 26, 2022 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Great reading stories such as this. They are so uplifting.

  2. Don E Wohlford September 16, 2022 at 5:34 am - Reply

    I am retired from 27 years in active and reserve duty. My career field was Recreation. At the time I went to school there were no schools in my state that taught Recreation Therapy. I worked for the state of Washington for 33 years in 5 institutions. Most of my time was spent in therapeutic settings with autistic children, mental health and juvenile delinquency. I had no formal education in therapy work but I worked my way thru it and felt like I made a difference in a lot of people’s lives and accomplished a number of things outside of the box. This was not always easy to do as I had to fight many insane staff ideas and attitudes which was header to do than working with patients. I saw many times where what I did had a profound effect on patients’ lives when they were locked up, While reading the virtual program I realized what I did was quite an accomplishment. I would like to have a chance to go thru the virtual reality program for many of the things I suffer today with. I feel like Recreation therapy along with many other forms of therapy are very useful. Years after graduating I went back to school to get a one-year certificate as a horticulture therapist. I learned many things in running a horticulture therapy program. The state would not fund the program, so I had to make the program self-supporting. I started the program with my own greenhouse supplies and there forward with 5 to 6 plant sales a year. The program raised $37,000 in 9 years. This is just that there can be another avenue for therapy. I hope you who have read this post have enjoyed it. I hope I will hear how I can participate in the Virtual Reality therapy program soon. My hospital is American Lake out of Tacoma, WA. Tank you SFC DON E WOHLFORD, RET

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