VA, Legion assist Hurricane Matthew victims

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, Randy Faircloth and his family have been stuck in a temporary shelter for two weeks and counting.

Their home withstood the initial wrath of the storm. But when it started “moving and crackling,” Faircloth sent his wife and daughter, who has ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, to the shelter at Purnell Swett High School in Maxton, N.C., where he joined them the following day.

“(The crackling) started freaking them out,” said Faircloth, who served in the National Guard after 9/11. “We made it through the storm until the dams and levees failed and the water started rising again.”

As North Carolina recovers from the intense hurricane, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working with The American Legion and other community organizations to provide medical care, prescriptions and other aid to veterans and civilians.

“It’s been great to get the medical care we need, and the assistance and the clothing,” Faircloth said. “They have been really good over here. All we had were the clothes on our backs and my dogs.

“I have no idea where I would be without VA. We’d definitely be in worse condition.”

The storm passed over North Carolina on Oct. 8, causing more than $1 billion in damage, leaving at least 26 people dead statewide and forcing thousands of residents from their homes as a result of floods, officials said.

The Faircloth family, which moved to North Carolina from Connecticut about two years ago, now has to make another major adjustment. “It’s been very stressful for everyone in the family,” Faircloth said. “We just want to be able to get a roof over our heads again so we can get our animals back and start over because we lost everything.”

As the cleanup continued last week in especially hard-hit Robeson County, near the border of South Carolina, VA staffers continued to seek out veterans and others needing assistance. VA established a mobile medical unit in Laurinburg, which provided aid to roughly 200 veterans and civilians after the storm.

VA staffers make frequent visits to the temporary shelters, looking for veterans needing assistance. The shelters are organized by the Red Cross. “We come from all over,” said Bobby Franklin, a Red Cross volunteer from Ohio. “But we unify and work as one.”

Mary Bauer, a registered nurse with VA in Minneapolis, was among those actively engaging with veterans at the shelters. Bauer would invite those requiring care to the medical mobile unit, where storm victims would receive an initial health assessment, medications and basic care.

“We have been seeing veterans who have been displaced who have been needing services such as medical, pharmaceutical or pyscho-social needs,” she said. “We have also been seeing non-veterans, civilians who have had some health issues. Pretty much anyone who had needs, we bring through our clinic.”

As an example, Bauer cited a veteran who came in with severe respiratory distress. After diagnosing him, VA staff realized he required hospital care immediately. “(Last Wednesday), he was discharged from the hospital and he stopped by the site to thank the staff for the wonderful care he received.”

Frederick Williams, an emergency manager for VA, oversaw the mobile medical unit’s operations.

“This is nothing new for VA to prepare for disasters,” Williams said, adding that the training for an event like the hurricane relief started months or even years ago. “But for this hurricane, we activated our incident commander center on Oct. 5 in preparation for this. When it hit on Oct. 8, we were already standing up and ready to respond to veterans’ needs and the community’s needs.”

Williams said other VA offices, VISN Network, Office of Emergency Management in Washington, Cape Fear Hospital and other health-care organizations were working together. He also credited The American Legion for its role in helping get the word out about the help that was available.

“All of the veterans organizations, including The American Legion (are helpful),” he said. “When we have this type of a disaster, we pull together and do what is necessary to make it happen. The American Legion helps pitch in and makes us effective in what we’re trying to do and help veterans.”

Charles Hall, an Army veteran and nurse manager for the Fayetteville VA, is on site to help oversee logistics.

“This has been a really rewarding experience,” Hall said. “All the patients who have come in — both veterans and non-veterans — have been treated very well. This is a very cohesive team. The way that the teams are working together is outstanding. It’s a warm fuzzy for me to see all these VA employees coming together with one mission in mind to take care of the veterans and the people in the community who need our resources.”

The assistance extended to other storm victims like Henry Jacobs, of Pembroke, whose home was damaged by the storm but he didn’t need to evacuate. Instead, he bailed water out with a mop and broom.

But the work and stress took a toll on the Vietnam War-era veteran.

Jacobs went to his VA with pains in both arms and legs and his chest. During his exam, doctors found high blood pressure, a slow heartbeat and a kidney problem.

He was also given a stress test. “I think the flooding had a lot to do with it.”

Now, Jacobs is on the mend.

“I’m a little sore in my chest now, but doing pretty fair,” he said. “I’m still a little concerned about it. I was treated very well by the VA.

“They are number one in my book. They took care of me.”