By Eric Dehm

They typically wear suits and dresses as they ply their trade in the halls of Congress in Washington D.C., but the veteran-focused advocacy group HillVets has traded in that finery. Today, they are decked out in rubber boots, shovels and the kind of gear required to deal with the environmental threat of mold and muck to do their part in aiding recovery efforts following Harvey’s devastating impact on Houston.

hillvets HillVets trade suits for work boots as they battle mold in Harvey ravaged Houston

A team comprised of members of Veterans advocacy group HillVets are working to “muck out” houses in Houston in an effort to combat deadly mold. (Photo courtesy HillVets)

“If I’m honest, we’re tired and this is super, super hard work,” HillVets Exec. Director and Navy veteran Justin Brown tells CBS Radio’s Connecting Vets.

“But y’know, it was the right thing to do. This entire area is in just a huge state of need, there’s just so many people who need help… frankly, there’s just not enough help to go around right now.”

And so, he packed up his team and they headed southwest to become part of the efforts to help Houston.

Brown says that on arrival it was clear to him the images on TV and the internet don’t compare to seeing the impact Harvey is having with your own eyes.

Still, Brown says the pictures and film do help prepare you for what you might see, to some extent, but they do not get you ready for another type of sensory overload.

hillvets4 HillVets trade suits for work boots as they battle mold in Harvey ravaged Houston

A HillVets team member uses a chainsaw to remove a wall segment showing signs of mold. (Photo courtesy HillVets)

“I think what really strikes you is frankly the smell,” Brown says.

“There’s a really strong smell of mold I mean there’s actually a real smell to Hurricane Harvey, I dare say. We’ve kinda joked that there are different flavors of that smell, but that smell is also the killer. It’s this mold that will ultimately start to destroy those homes that we don’t get to. It’s really a race against time in terms of helping these people because mold is the killer.”

To battle the threat of mold, the HillVets team has been doing “muck outs” which involves cleaning all of the debris, waterlogged furniture and anything else that could lead to mold growth. Brown points out that the water brings other hazards into people’s homes including sewage and oil. and then there are the things you might not think of that residents leave behind that can become an issue.

hillvets3 HillVets trade suits for work boots as they battle mold in Harvey ravaged Houston

HillVets Exec. Director Justin Brown removes rotting drywall inside of a Houston home in an effort to combat the spread of mold. (Photo courtesy HillVets)

“As you walk into these homes they have varying levels of their own issues,” Brown says. “I know one of the first muck outs we did for my team, they had dog food. Well the dog food starts to rot, and starts to really stink and they also had some gas cans that had flooded. As you go into these homes the state of them varies but they’re all in pretty bad shape.”

While Brown says there simply aren’t enough people on the ground to muck out every home the teams working on it, including HillVets, will do all that they can to save as many houses as they can. While he says he wishes that there was a way to help each home, it’s simply not possible but that doesn’t make him any less proud of the work his organization, and the countless other veterans and VSO’s in the area are doing.

“The veteran community’s response has been overwhelming,” Brown says. “You see it everywhere down here. It’s not hard to see how many former men and women that served or nation are down here doing great work. it’s very real. Team Rubicon’s response on their rescue teams… those guys were saving lives and they saved a lot of lives.”

Seeing the efforts from everyone from Team Rubicon to AmVets to Grunt Style and other vet organizations working to help Houston, Brown says it is clear to him that those who once fought on behalf of their nation are still willing to fight for their fellow Americans, in any way they can, whenever the need arises.

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