Some dates are forever ingrained. Dec. 7, 1941. Nov. 22, 1963. Sept. 11, 2001. But for many people in Puerto Rico, Sept. 20, 2017, is the date that changed everything.
Hurricane Maria, a high intensity Category 4 hurricane, landed on the U.S. territory and wreaked a path of destruction unprecedented in the island’s long dynamic history. The death toll there ranged from an official count of 58 to estimates exceeding 500. The storm’s deadly path inflicted an estimated $100 billion of damage on the already economically-challenged island.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to drive semi-trucks loaded with supplies to Puerto Rico as we did for the people of Texas and Florida after hurricanes hit those states,” American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan said Tuesday, while touring The American Legion Department of Puerto Rico. “But the people here are every bit as much a part of The American Legion Family. And families take care of each other in time of need.”
Rohan’s official visit has taken her to American Legion posts in Carolina, Arecibo, Camuy and Adjuntas. She visited staff, volunteers and patients at the VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Ponce. And she will close out the week visiting Legion Family members in St. Thomas and St. John, islands also hit hard during the past hurricane season.
“I want to know what you need so I can bring your stories to Congress when I testify on the hill next month,” she told Legion Family members and VA officials.
According to National Executive Committeeman Angel O. Narvaez, money is what is needed most. “Early on, deliveries were very difficult,” he said. “By the time the postal service was straightened out, many of the essential supplies were already provided by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Organization) and other organizations. But people still need to rebuild, which is why it is so important for people to donate to the (Legion's) National Emergency Fund. And it’s important that Americans everywhere know that we thank them for their support and prayers. Our brothers and sisters in the states are always in our prayers as well.”
Since the hurricane hti Puerto Rico, The American Legion National Emergency Fund has awarded more than $61,000 in grants to the department, the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program donated $20,000 in gift cards to the region’s VA patients during Rohan's visit, and $15,500 in American Legion Temporary Financial Assistance has been distributed to meet the basic needs for children of Legion-eligible veterans. Departments and posts across the United States have also donated generously to the Department of Puerto Rico.
Although asking for assistance from the American Legion Family has not been a top priority for many of the storm victims, more aid is certain to come.
“I want my members provided for first, I’ll do my NEF application last,” said Post 6 Vice Commander Rafel Mendez. “I am very proud of these people. They are very resilient. We will rebuild."