By Glenn W. Sutphin, Jr.
Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs
As we come together to honor the contributions of our state’s more than 1.5 million veterans during the Veterans Day weekend, many Floridians are still recovering from the long-term impact of Hurricane Irma.
Florida’s network of county veteran service officers, many of whom sheltered in place, are helping to connect local area veterans and their families to earned benefits, services and support. Veterans’ Claims Examiners from the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs are also connecting veterans to earned services and support, as well as augmenting Disaster Recovery Centers operating in the hardest hit areas of our state.
Our colleagues from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were also busy prior to and immediately after the hurricane knocked out power to millions of Floridians. While all VA Medical Centers remained open, more than 50 VA clinics in the path of the storm were closed as a result of Irma’s landfall. Thanks to their emergency preparedness, most VA health care facilities had reopened within the week and were adjusting patient appointment times. The last impacted facility, the Key West Community Based Outpatient Clinic, reopened on Sept. 25.
As the state agency charged with representing Florida’s veterans, their families and survivors, we also were prepared for the impacts of Irma.
The medical and support staff of each of our six veterans’ nursing homes and one domiciliary home participate each year in an annual Hurricane Preparedness Exercise, hosted by Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. As our seven veterans’ homes are built to shelter in place with a variety of in-house generators, shutters and wind-resistant glass, we practice serving our residents in a near normal environment, while preparing for the anticipated loss of utility power and access to additional supplies and relief health care staff.
Indeed, our plans call for the sheltering of families and pets of both residents and staff, to help those in need and ensure the availability of critical health care staff in the immediate hours and days following the impact of a major storm.
Our planning paid off, as five of our seven veterans’ homes lost main power in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. One home, the 120-bed Baldomero Lopez State Veterans’ Nursing Home in Land O’ Lakes, was on generator power for five days until utility power was restored. Home Administrator Marlies Sarrett and her team hosted more than 300 people and a variety of pets during and immediately after the storm, and she and her team excelled in providing care to their residents without missing a beat. I’m very proud of their efforts, and those of all our veterans’ homes impacted by Irma.
A comprehensive list of county veteran service offices and FDVA Veterans’ Claims Examiners is available on our website at www.FloridaVets.org or by calling (850) 414-2717. If you would like to know more about our network of award-winning state veterans’ homes, please visit our website or call (727) 518-3202, Extension 5562.
On this Veterans Day, let’s pause, reflect and thank our nation’s veterans who have defended the principles upon which our country was founded.
Thank you for your service. We are pleased to serve you.