Hurricane Irma, department of veterans affairs, Jonathan Kaupanger
gettyimages 55402543 VA welcomes non vet seniors in Florida

A wheelchair and hospital beds covered in mud and debris sit in a room at the St. Rita’s Nursing Home September, 14, 2005 in St. Bernard, Louisiana. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that where possible, beds in VA facilities will be opened to non-veterans affected by Hurricane Irma.

The VA can do this as part of its “fourth mission,” which states that the agency can “support national, state and local emergency management, public health, safety and homeland security efforts.” This also falls under the Stafford Act which basically says once an emergency is determined by the President, and after VA takes care of veterans, resources can be used to help American citizens who are in affected areas.

VA Secretary David J. Shulkin has been working with Florida’s governor and senator and said in a statement released by the VA, “We thank Governor Scott and Senator Nelson for involving VA and we are grateful we can help our fellow citizens where we can in this time of need.” The Secretary continued, “All Americans are pulling together to help one another, and we must make a special effort for those most vulnerable to the conditions brought on by the storm.”

The VA has been working closely with FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services on the recovery efforts. Shulkin said that where possible, the VA will make beds that are not being used by veterans available to civilian nursing home residents as needed, while still making sure the VA can continue its primary mission of providing health to veterans.

There are 683 nursing homes in Florida. As of Thursday evening, 39 were without power.  There have been reports of at least 8 deaths in one nursing home, possibly caused from excessive heat.  An executive order is now in effete in the area, requiring all nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and care homes to evacuate patients if the facility doesn’t have electricity and air conditioning.

“We will continue to look for ways to relieve the hardship this powerful storm has caused,” Shulkin said. “Much of the heavy lifting to recover from the hurricane is still to come, and our leaders and staff are determined to find as many ways as we can for VA to help in coordination with federal, state and local agencies in the response.”

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