department of veterans affairs, veterans, veteran health care, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey, Jonathan Kaupanger, Hurricane Maria

VA keeps chugging in storm-damaged Caribbean and Gulf Coast

3742513 VA keeps chugging in storm damaged Caribbean and Gulf Coast

The outer band of Hurricane Irma approaches San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 6, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Douglas Ellis)

By Jonathan Kaupanger

Veterans Affairs has been taking a beating in Gulf Coast area lately. First Harvey devastated Texas, then Irma dumped on the Caribbean and Florida – but the VA was able to shift quickly to keep services available for veterans.  Another big storm is ready to test the Agency’s ability to keep veterans benefits flowing in the Caribbean and wherever the storm heads after that.

St. Thomas: The CBOC on the US Virgin Island is currently closed due to damage from Hurricane Irma.  There is no reopening date at this time.  If you had an appointment, VA staff will contact you to schedule a new one or give you an update on the clinic’s status.

St. Croix: Closed through at least tomorrow, the CBOC is expected to be open by Thursday.  Veterans impacted by closures will be contacted by VA staff to reschedule as soon as possible.

Puerto Rico:  Inpatient services will be fully operational but all outpatient services are closed starting at 2:00p today through at least tomorrow.  Patient visitation will not be permitted during this time.

Outpatient clinics close today in Arecibo, Ceiba, Comerio, Guayama, Mayaguez, Ponce, Utuado and Vieques.  Depending on storm damage, they all are expected to open Thursday.

Hurricane Maria is expected to make a right turn and head north, off the east coast of the US. But since storms can be unpredictable, here’s what’s going on with the VA properties in costal Texas. The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and all but one of the outpatient clinics has resumed normal operations.  Beaumont Outpatient Clinic and Beaumont Vet Center remain closed due to damage from Hurricane Harvey.  The VA has deployed Mobile Vet Centers, Medical Units, Pharmacy and a Canteen to the area and will be available at least until the end of September.  For locations and hours of services you can go here.

The Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System is open with the exception of the Corpus Christi Outpatient Clinic, which will remain closed until further notice.

All other VA facilities in Texas and Louisiana that suffered damage from Hurricane Harvey are open and under normal hours of operation.

Miami VA Healthcare System, including all outpatient clinics, is fully operational and on a normal schedule.  For West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, for the most part the same is true with the exception of the Delray CBOC.  Patients can go to the Boca Raton CBOC for any care needs.

For veterans who receive their benefit payments through the mail, the VA has come up with a few options to keep this going even if the mail system is stopped due to the storms. Direct deposit is the easiest way to get your payments.  Veterans can sign up either online at the VA’s eBenefits site or by calling (800) 827-1000.

For veterans in the storm affected areas, the Direct Express Cardless Benefit Access program can help with the more emergent financial needs. Veterans can get up to $1,000 even if they don’t have their card.

Contact the Direct Express Call Center by calling (888) 741-1115 and choose the “Direct Express Cardless Benefit Access” option. This is a free service, however because of system limitations a fee will be charged, then refunded.  You’ll need to go to a MoneyGram store to pick up the funds.  Proper ID is needed and if the beneficiary is unable to pick up the money, it will be added back on the card.

Another big issue is medication. If you can, you should always try the VA Pharmacy where you received your original prescription first.  If that pharmacy is closed due to a storm, the Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan lets veterans in damaged areas get an emergency supply of medications.  To do this you will need a VA ID card, a written prescription or a VA prescription bottle that’s not older than six months and has refills available.  To get a 10-day supply, just go to any retail pharmacy that’s open to the public.  You must have your VA ID card and you cannot get controlled substances by using this emergency service.

Another option for veterans needing medication or if you’ve lost your prescription you can call the Heritage Health Customer Care Line. VA Patients in affected areas can call (866) 265-0124 and you want option 1.  This helpline is open Monday through Friday 8a to 10p and on the weekends it’s open 9a – 6p.

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