Jodie Picciano-Swanson, LCSW, ACSW
GCVHCS Homeless Program Manager
AVASW Nominations Chair 2018
Harvey….Irma…. Florence…. Maria…. and so many others.
Most recently, Hurricane Michael, one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever make landfall in the U.S, greatly impacted the Florida Gulf Coast.
The Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System is comprised of a Medical Center in Biloxi, MS, and CBOC’s in Mobile, AL, Pensacola, FL, Ft. Walton, FL and Panama City, FL. I am the Homeless Program Manager; we have hundreds of Veterans housed within our catchment area. Staff prepare Veterans every year during hurricane season. While staff was boarding up their own homes and developing safety plans for their own families before Michael, they were also reaching out to their Veterans to inform them of evacuation routes and verifying emergency contact information. There were some Veterans who were not contacted prior to the storm; some still could not be contacted after the storm. As I am sure was true with other areas that experienced devastation, Social Workers and other staff volunteered to go visit shelters and go door to door looking for the missing Veterans and found others in need as well.
In a crisis, such as the aftermath of a hurricane, the compassion and dedication of Social Workers far surpasses any possible expectation. We provide support, problem solving, resources and empowerment when it is needed most. We also take care of each other.
I would like to share a story of social work teamwork and dedication to Veterans as well as each other. Shayma Salman and Catherine Anglin-Greene work together in Panama City. They both suffered significant damage to their homes. The only cell service right after Hurricane Michael was AT&T, which is the VA phone service provider. Catherine sat in her running truck after the storm, using precious gas to charge her phone and called vulnerable Veterans on her caseload. Despite having the roof torn off her own house, she was worried about Veterans who chose to ride out the storm. She was trapped in her neighborhood and was running out of food. Shayma, her co-worker, also suffered significant home damage. She was willing to try to get to Catherine’s house over five miles away by bicycle with a backpack filled with food but could not get through. Shayma tried to contact Veterans, while also trying to figure out the educational needs of her children, as so many schools were damaged. The fact that these two Social Workers suffered their own losses, yet were focused on Veterans and each other, still gives me goosebumps.
Social Workers live the ICARE values every day; at work as well as in their personal lives. As I write this, Social Workers and Certified Peer Support Specialists are traveling hours on a daily basis to reach Veterans in Panama City, assisting with immediate needs, resources and re-housing.
As other VA facilities have experienced natural disasters, we too are resilient. Thank you to all who kept the Florida Panhandle in your thoughts; please continue to do so, as it will be months and months of recovery in this area. Please remember the men and women stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, as they were evacuated, and the base remains closed at this time due to significant damage. These are our future Veterans, who are serving our country and sustained significant losses.
On a personal note, thank you to all Social workers who experienced loss during the most recent storms, yet still took care of Our Nations Heroes.