WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of Texas veterans could see their federal benefits disrupted because of the after effects of Hurricane Harvey, but Department of Veterans Affairs officials are promising a host of resources to mitigate the hardship.
More than 50 counties were flooded and thousands evacuated to federal shelters in the aftermath of the powerful storm, and the total cost for housing and infrastructure repairs is expected to reach into the billions of dollars. About 1.5 million veterans live in Texas, and the exact number of those affected by the storm is unknown.
Officials from the U.S. Postal Service have already warned communities around Houston that mail delivery could be impaired for weeks to come.
That presents a major issue for many of the veterans living in the area, especially if they rely on postal workers for delivery VA benefits checks.
On Friday, department officials posted a list of local services and emergency assistance in an attempt to give veterans other alternatives for those critical needs. That includes outreach at shelters to set up temporary addresses for deliveries and enrolling veterans in direct deposit so that “they can be paid almost within a day.”
Veterans who participate in VA job training programs in affected areas may be eligible for up to two additional months of allowances, and veterans attending colleges in those communities won’t see a stoppage in their education benefits, even if classes take weeks to resume.
Officials said outreach coordinators have already been deployed to Dallas and Houston shelters to help veterans with benefits assistance and other questions. That includes information on what happens to VA home loan participants who lose their residence to a natural disaster and information on the department’s Automobile Adaptive Allowance program.
The department has already suspended debt collection for all veterans living in federal disaster areas, and will not resume those efforts until March 2018.
As of Friday morning, most VA medical centers, clinics and facilities in southeast Texas have reopened, although a number of outpatient clincs and vet centers remain closed. The department is updating the status of all those facilities on their web site.
VA leaders also activated their Pharmacy Disaster Relief Plan for the affected areas, allowing eligible veterans with a VA ID Card to go to CVS or HEB pharmacies to receive an emergency supply of medications. Information on that program is available through the Veterans Help line at 1-866 265-0124.
Veterans service organizations in the area are also helping locals understand and connect with those aid programs.
Department officials and outside advocates are also reminding veterans experiencing mental distress after the devastating storm can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at any time by calling 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1) or by visiting its web site.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.