VA Struggles to Restore Services in Storm-Ravaged North Carolina

Members of the Nebraska Task Force 1 urban search and rescue team help Korea war veteran Roman Wiggs, 87, out of his wheelchair and into a bus seat while evacuating an assisted living facility as a precaution against potential flooding the city could see from tropical storm Florence in Fayetteville, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Members of the Nebraska Task Force 1 urban search and rescue team help Korea war veteran Roman Wiggs, 87, out of his wheelchair and into a bus seat while evacuating an assisted living facility as a precaution against potential flooding the city could see from tropical storm Florence in Fayetteville, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Sick and disabled veterans who had been evacuated from the Hampton, Virginia VA Medical Center amid hurricane conditions were allowed to begin returning to the center on Monday. But the immense rainfall from Hurricane Florence and its aftermath left clinics closed and hospitals isolated in flood-ravaged North Carolina.

The advisory from the Fayetteville, North Carolina VA Medical Center was typical of others across the state where rivers were still on the rise and damaged roads and washed-out bridges made rescue and relief efforts risky.

"Patients and staff alike, please exercise caution and place safety first," officials at the Fayetteville VAMC, near Fort Bragg, said.

The main hospital at the Fayetteville center remained "isolated" by the floods. Officials at the center said that its outlying clinics were tentatively scheduled to re-open on Wednesday, but added that actual re-openings were "to be determined based on factors like weather, road and facility condition as well as water and utility availability."

Ahead of the storm that hit Sept. 14, the VA closed five hospitals and 18 community-based outpatient clinics in the southeast coastal regions of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

About 1.5 million veterans, including more than 741,000 enrolled in VA health care, and more than 28,600 VA employees live in the region, the VA said.

Prior to the storm, the VA said that all facilities in the region had "topped off their energy and oxygen supplies, and have enough food until September 29."

Also ahead of Hurricane Florence, about 217 sick and disabled patients were moved from the Hampton, Virginia center and transported to other facilities in Martinsburg, West Virginia; Salem, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; and Salisbury, North Carolina, VA officials said.

Those evacuated patients were being returned to the Hampton center Monday.

The VA had readied mobile units to go to the region once the storm passed to provide services to stranded veterans, but it was unclear when they would actually start working in North Carolina.

At least 23 deaths have been recorded in the hurricane and its aftermath. The entire city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been described as "isolated" from the rest of the state.

"This storm is slowly and painfully grinding across our state," said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. "Our main worry is water and flooding. With every inch of rain, our rivers rise and we'll see significant flooding on into next week ... it could be of historic proportions."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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