VAMC Manchester, New Hampshire
Manchester VA Police Lend Support in Puerto Rico
Wearing the same uniform, but working in a completely different environment, police officers from the Manchester Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire volunteered to support the hurricane relief effort in Puerto Rico.
Fulfilling a national request searching for VA police officers, Jeff Meyers, Deputy Chief, and David Brown, Sergeant of Police, dedicated two weeks to protect and serve civilians and veterans in the affected area.
“I volunteered because it was a chance to help other veterans and my fellow Americans,” said Brown, who has worked at the Manchester VA for more than four years. “I wanted to see what I could do to help, and to see the damage first hand. It was also a chance to give back to people in need.”
And that’s exactly what Brown did.
“I was working with veterans every single day,” said Brown, who provided security for employees and veterans at the VA Arecibo Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). “On a typical day we saw over 100 Veterans; the VA employees tended to basic primary care needs, and if the Veterans needed food or water, we made sure they knew where to go. We also helped out the staff if they needed anything, and I made contact with FEMA so they could give us extra supplies so we could hand them out when people came to us.”
Brown added that even though the CBOC didn’t open until 8 a.m., many veterans showed up at 6 a.m.
“I’d go out there and talk to them while they waited in line; if they couldn’t speak English, I would just try to make them smile, and laugh.”
Meyers served the relief effort as the security branch director in the Incident Command Center.
“For the officers coming in and out of Puerto Rico, I was coordinating where they’d be staying,” said Meyers. “Also, any movement of people or weapons, or security issues, I would have to communicate and get approvals from the Central Office because of the firearms, there are certain memos we have to complete to get approval.”
Both men recounted their thoughts while on the island including the various power outages.
“In the major city they had power, but they also had ‘rolling blackouts’ where they would lose power in certain areas, and it would typically take about 12 hours to have it come back up again,” said Meyers.
Brown discussed the disparity between the most and least affected places.
“What shocked me the most was the total devastation of [some] areas,” said Brown. “Buildings had no roofs, there was nothing inside the buildings, like everything got washed out. Tree branches 20 feet high, and piles of trash on the road going until forever. And then, you’d have places that looked like nothing ever happened to it, but then you’d go a block up, and there was piles of trash, houses that were falling apart, no roofs... that was odd to see in a non-combat zone.”
However, despite the unfortunate circumstances, the men reported that the Veteran’ spirits remained high.
“My highlight was working with the Veterans,” Brown stated. “Because even if they were told that something wasn’t available, they were still as polite as can be, thanked us for being there, and said they would come back the next day to see if they could get it. They’re American citizens like us...just in a really bad position.”
Meyers and Brown returned on Nov.27, and are back to their duties at the Manchester VA Medical Center.
“Locally, Manchester VA Medical Center is proud to support these officers, and the larger VA commitment to the safety of all Veterans,” said Al Montoya, the acting director for the Manchester VA Medical Center.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico hard on September 20 with winds of up to 154 mph, and roughly 230,000 homes were destroyed.