WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs nursing homes will open their doors to non-veterans in an effort to help house some of the thousands of Florida residents displaced by Hurricane Irma last week.

“All Americans are pulling together to help one another, and we must make a special effort for those most vulnerable to the conditions brought on by the storm,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement Thursday.

The storm, which forced tens of thousands of state residents to evacuate, caused widespread damage through southern Florida. State officials estimate more than 2 million people are still without power, and temperatures across many counties are expected to approach 90 degrees today.

VA officials said under federal rules, the department can make its facilities available to non-veterans in cases of national, state and local emergencies.

The department manages eight assisted-living facilities in the state with nearly 1,000 beds, and several more in neighboring states. VA leaders said unused beds will be made available through local emergency response authorities, “while ensuring VA continues its primary mission of providing healthcare to veterans.”

Department officials are also working with Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on other hurricane response efforts.

“Much of the heavy lifting to recover from the hurricane is still to come, and our leaders and staff are determined to find as many ways as we can for VA to help in coordination with federal, state and local agencies in the response,” Shulkin said in his statement.

As the hurricane approached Florida, VA officials announced that all veterans displaced by evacuations could receive health care or support services at any department facility throughout the nation.

Veterans can inquire about additional assistance through the department’s disaster hotline, 1-800-507-4571.

State officials said some of the areas hit hardest by the storm could be without power for weeks. They estimate the total cost of infrastructure and personal property repairs will top more than $50 billion.


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.

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