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VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System staff reach out to Veterans following historic tornado outbreak

Tornado damage
Photo courtesy of The Nebraska National Guard

OMAHA, Neb. – In the aftermath of a catastrophic tornado outbreak that hit multiple communities in and around Omaha, Friday, April 26, 2024, members of VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System (VA NWIHCS) reached out to offer aid and support to Veterans affected by the disaster.

According to Dr. Tysa Ferguson, VA NWIHCS associate director for Patient Care, members of the staff worked hard to identify and communicate with Veterans directly affected by the storms. The initial lists of those who might be affected was daunting, considering that the storm affected such communities as Lincoln, Waverly, Greenwood, Gretna, Elkhorn, Bennington, Blair and Minden, Iowa, which was struck twice by tornadoes in just a matter of days. 

“We pulled a report by zip code of Veterans in those impacted areas,” Ferguson said.  “We took the list of over 800 and made calls to all Veterans to determine needs around housing, medications, food, clothing, mental health and prosthetics. “

The VA NWIHCS team, composed primarily of nursing case managers and social workers, personally reached out to 831 Veterans, while an additional 587 Veterans were contacted through various other channels. This outreach aimed to ensure that Veterans were safe while identifying those who had immediate needs for assistance.

Ferguson said the Veterans’ needs were often significant.

Eight Veterans needed housing, seven required medication, three sought assistance from the Prosthetics Department, and one needed mental health services. Additionally, five Veterans needed help with food. Others needed assistance with transportation, or needed support brought to them. 

To address housing needs, the VA's social workers helped the Veterans identify suitable housing options, including hotel placements. The VA also partnered with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization to provide vouchers to the Veterans, further aiding their housing situation. 

"Pharmacy (specialists) contacted all the Veterans needing assistance with medications,” Ferguson said. “They were able to provide medications to those Veterans impacted within a week."

The VA NWIHCS Audiology Department worked closely with a Veteran to replace a lost hearing aid, while the Eye Clinic assisted another Veteran with replacing lost eyeglasses. 

The VANWIHCS food pantry was also instrumental in providing food to Veterans in need while members of the VA’s Whole Health department offered Veterans various services, including aromatherapy, breathing techniques, yoga, tai-chi, and more. 

Ferguson said VA NWIHCS was one of numerous local groups working to provide assistance to Veterans in the affected locations. Following the tornadoes, the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs opened applications for Nebraska Veterans Aid to provide financial support. This initiative is expected to alleviate some Veterans' financial burdens after the tornado. 

Ferguson said many of the Veterans contacted were appreciative of the effort by VA NWIHCS to check in with them. 

"Veterans voiced appreciation in being called even if not affected and felt cared about in this uncertain time," she said. 

Ferguson added that as Veterans continue to navigate through this challenging time, VA NWIHCS will continue to be ready to provide comprehensive support. "Follow up calls are planned for Veterans affected to make sure needs have been met," Ferguson added, indicating the VA's commitment to long-term support for the affected Veterans and employees.