Rapid response by VA keeps benefits and services moving

gettyimages 840330852 Rapid response by VA keeps benefits and services moving

A patient is taken to the St. Josephs hospital after evacuating when Hurricane Harvey caused heavy flooding in Houston, Texas on August 28, 2017. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall late last month, the Department of Veterans Affairs is proving how nimble the massive agency can be when veterans are in need. With well over two million veterans in the path of Harvey and Irma, VA has quickly enacted programs and deployed its mobile fleet in order to keep benefits and services flowing to veterans.

Veterans displaced by hurricanes Harvey and Irma can now receive care at any Veterans Affairs health care facility. VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin has directed all VA facilities to engage their traveling Veterans Coordinator in order to make sure systems are in place so veterans can receive care wherever they end up after evacuations.

Normally, to shift to a different medical center, VA requests a four to six week advanced notification. Now, veterans can receive mental health, homeless service and health care in any medical center, clinic or mobile medical unit as needed. If immediate assistance is needed, veterans are asked to call the Health Resources Center Disaster Hotline at (800) 507-4571.

While it’s too early to say where units will be stationed in Florida, in Texas, VA is proving its mobility as residents continue to clean up from Harvey. Five Vet Centers, three Medical Units, one Pharmacy and one Canteen have been moved to Houston and the surrounding areas to provide medical care, pharmacy assistance, counseling services and benefits referral.

gettyimages 841920734 Rapid response by VA keeps benefits and services moving

HOUSTON, TX – SEPTEMBER 02: People line up to receive food and water from a Salvation Army truck after their homes were inundated with flood waters during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey on September 2, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Beaumont Outpatient Clinic (3420 Plaza Circle) andthe Vet Center are the only VA facilities that haven’t been reopened since the hurricane hit. Veterans Affairs has placed a mobile Medical Unit, Vet Center and a Canteen on site.  While the VA works hard to reopen both facilities, staff continues to take care of veterans.

Social Worker Angela Rutledge and other staff have volunteered at the Red Cross Shelter, where they are assisting the veterans staying there.

“We’ve helped coordinate with local CVS to obtain prescription needs for Veterans through VA’s pharmacy disaster relief plan,” said Rutledge. She’s been using her smartphone to help veterans pull up their prescriptions through VA’s MyHealthevet program.

“Having these patients’ medication lists and basic medical information at my fingertips through MyHealthevet has been a lifesaver,” she said.

As a way to get medication to vets as quickly as possible, VA’s Mobile Pharmacy is parked at the Lone Star Veterans Association (2929 McKenney St., Houston) along with a medical unit and vet center. This drugstore on wheels is connected to VA’s pharmacy system and can process more than 1,000 per hour.  This 40-foot long trailer can even withstand a category 3 hurricane – if needed.

As another way to move medications where they need to be, the Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan was activated for the impacted areas. This allows veterans with a VA ID card the ability to get an emergency supply of medications.  During a disaster, vets can go to CVS or HEB pharmacies in Texas and any retail pharmacy open to the public in Florida and the Caribbean and get at least a 10 day supply.

Veterans Benefits Administration has ways to help veterans receive their benefit payments if normal mail delivery has been effected by the storms. Veterans who haven’t already signed up for direct deposits can do so now by calling (800) 827-1000.  The Direct Express Cardless Benefit Access program is allowing vets who use Direct Express and live in the affected areas the ability to get cash without their card – up to $1,000.

The service is being offered free of charge right now, but due to system limitations, a fee is charged, then refunded to the beneficiary. To retrieve their money, veterans need to go to a MoneyGram store.  Proper ID will be required before you can get your cash.  The stores accept passports, driver’s license, military ID, SSN and state ID cards.  The beneficiary must also have a MoneyGram reference number that is provided by the Direct Express Call Center and that phone number is (888) 741-1115.  If you can’t get to a MoneyGram store, the funds are placed on your Direct Express card.

Connect: @JonathanVets1 | Jonathan@ConnectingVets.com

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