Amarillo VA employees return home from deployment in Puerto Rico
AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) —
A team from the Amarillo VA is back home Wednesday evening after being deployed to Puerto Rico to provide health care to victims in the area.
They arrived home Wednesday afternoon after spending two weeks in rough conditions, helping victims who were affected by the hurricane.
They said they saw loving families' lives disrupted and homes destroyed. They slept on a cot in a room of 50 to 60 people, working long shifts, caring for the ones affected by the hurricane.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20. Nearly seven weeks later, the island is still recovering.
"We forget that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States," said Rick Siemens, Amarillo VA Chief of Staff. "They're our fellow countrymen. They told us a lot while I was down there that they felt that too that a lot of America forgets about them being in the southern Caribbean. Reaching out to them as our fellow countrymen meant a lot to me."
Siemens and a nurse from the VA in Amarillo spent two weeks there total. He says it was very rewarding being able to help victims of the hurricane who needed medical attention.
A medical shelter was set up where they worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off.
"We had a number of hospice deaths and it really meant a lot to the families and we always has a ceremony as the remains of the loved one was taken out," said Siemens.
According to the VA, staff members are providing care for roughly 338 patients in Puerto Rico. The VA centers in Puerto Rico have all been closed, so the mobile shelters are how they are providing care to displaced veterans.
"We're glad to be home. I have to admit it's nice to be back in Amarillo."
About half of the island is still out of power and residents are going to be picking up the pieces for some time.