The VA team goes from one hurricane shelter to another, assisting veterans.
by David Compa
It’s early in the morning, and the entire city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, seems to be gazing at the sky with concern. It looks like rain but the island just can’t handle any more flooding. On the highway, under the dark, heavy clouds, a small car makes its way through traffic. In it are four women, Ghislaine Rivera, Mia Lind, Janine Smalley and Katie Blanker, with whom I'm spending the day — it's Oct. 5. Our first stop? A school that’s been turned into a hurricane shelter. Lind, an occupational therapist for the VA Caribbean Healthcare System in San Juan, goes to the door, asking, “Are there any veterans here?” Every day since the hurricane hit, she and her team have been roaming from shelter to shelter, looking for veterans who need medical attention. Mia Lind is an occupational therapist for the VA Hospital in San Juan. Credit: Jasmine Garsd/PRI There are somewhere around 75,000 US Army veterans living in Puerto Rico. Most served during the Vietnam War. After Hurricane Maria, many are now living in shelters. Thousands of people, not just veterans, have been displaced by the storm, and the shelters are packed. At the school, a supervisor answers: Yes, there's a veteran here. The VA team finds 70-year-old Luis Torres lying in bed. His dress shirt is wide open and his baseball cap is flipped backward. His bed is surrounded by piles of clothing and some bags of food. Luis Torres, 70, is a veteran of the Air Force. Credit: Jasmine Garsd/PRI The Air Force veteran was honorably discharged; he has his military ID, but the other paperwork was lost in the storm. “My house ... it disappeared,” he says, breaking down in tears. His teenage son, Andrew Torres, who is also staying here, pulls out his phone to show us pictures of what's left of their house. It’s like the roof and the walls were just plucked out. On the second floor, a toilet stands alone in the open. Janine Smalley takes Luis Torres's vitals. His blood pressure is 130 over 80, so that’s "perfect," she says, asking, "Do you take any meds?" Smalley is the VA team’s registered nurse and Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She’s here from Cleveland,