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After Tornado, VA Joins Community Responders

A woman stands in front of tornado damage.

Andrea Farmer, VA Lawton Vet Center Team Leader, assisted Veterans and their families after the devastating tornado.

by Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2013

Helped Over 4,400 Veterans and Others

After an EF5 tornado, the highest category of intensity, slammed into Moore, Okla., on May 20, 2013, hundreds of Oklahomans had an immediate reaction: help those hurt by the storm.

VA was among them.

VA’s Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) immediately dispatched their staff and a Mobile Vet Center to the scene. As of today, one month later, they are still there.

As of June 19, Vet Center staff members from across the country have provided readjustment counseling services, including outreach, education, referral and direct counseling to 4,481 Veterans, family members, active duty service members, first responders, and Oklahoma citizens.

A Mobile Vet Center and RCS staff are currently operating in the El Reno, Okla., area providing direct counseling services, outreach, referral and benefits counseling to Veterans and their families.

As in all traumatic situations, the experience affects different people in different ways.

 My days have been filled with…hope from those impacted. 

He Listened to Who We Are

Deborah Jesseman, Northtown, PA Vet Center, Team Leader, remembers one encounter. “A Marine Corps Veteran approached me and said, ‘Are you a Veteran?’ I was able to say yes. He said, ‘I made the wrong turn yesterday and ended up in a war zone.’ He explained that he went to the area that was badly hit and ‘had a flashback.’ The conversation was intense because it initially appeared he was thinking of suicide, but after several minutes of talking, he indicated that he would never commit suicide because his friend had done this and he saw what this did to people. He listened to what the Vet Center offers and who we are and he agreed to see a counselor at the local Vet Center.”

Lisa Wallace, a counselor with the Aurora, Ill., Vet Center, said, “The team I have been working within the Moore community has been assisting Veterans and families. Some of them have really touched my heart. The one that really stands out for me the most is the family that lost everything but the mother did not complain. She said, ‘I am thankful to God that we are all alive.’ She said, ‘I may not have my stuff, but I have my family and the support of those from around the world.’ The families and Veterans have thanked us over and over again for coming out and providing assistance and support.”

As Counseling Service Team Leader Andrea Farmer puts it, “I am truly honored to be able to provide assistance and support to the families of Oklahoma. Being able to serve and help others rebuild their lives is a passion for me. My days have been filled with smiles, joy, gratitude, and most of all, hope from those impacted.”

A man and woman in a Mobile Vet Center working on computers.

Louann Fellers Engle, Readjustment Counseling Services Regional Manager, and Christopher Thomas, Mobile Vet Center Driver.

VA Mobile Vet Centers — Rescue on Wheels

The Mobile Vet Center (MVC) has two confidential counseling areas on either end with a waiting room in the center. The internet satellite and onboard generator assures that Vet Center counselors will have real time access to a Veteran’s VA records on a secure system.

A video conferencing system allows for face-to-face visits between the Veteran and a health provider at any VA Medical Center.

As part of the outreach to Veterans, the MVC travels to deployment locations making sure that our Reserve and Active Duty service members are aware of the problems they may encounter while overseas and when they return home.

Three people at a table outside a Mobile Vet Center.

VA’s Christopher Thomas, Erica Seyfert and Austin Wilmarth responded to Oklahoma Tornado

VA Mobile Vet Centers have been maximized for multi-use applications by adding portable exam tables that can be configured within the existing confidential counseling areas to provide limited primary care capability.

Additionally, the installation of rear doors, a wheelchair lift, and litter racks within the vehicle provide emergency patient evacuation capability. The addition of locked storage space and refrigeration facilitate medication storage during primary care utilization. A shower and toilet facilities are also contained within the MVC. These enhance VA medical personnel capabilities in health care outreach such as “Stand Downs” for homeless veterans.

In the event of a natural disaster or a civil defense emergency, the extraordinary communications capabilities of the MVC enables VA to assist federal and state emergency managers in a variety of ways.