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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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Make Our Veterans Program Part of Your Unit

Usually I write about a person who was helped by the services I provide through Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans Program. This time I’m going to do that with a twist, so let me tell you the story. Years ago I met a Marine and after this initial meeting our paths diverged for a long time. About a year ago, our paths crossed again at a Marine Corps birthday celebration in Houston and I learned he was a County Veterans Service Officer. After catching up we discovered that we both worked in the Veteran community to reduce the stigma around mental health, providing services to Veterans and their family members. Though our services are different, they both aim to end the suffering in silence of so many Veterans. Over this year, we have discussed all these things and one thing was clear-we have the same mission. A partnership was born that extends to the many Veterans we meet each week.

You might think this is just a story about two people in the community working together to help Veterans, but it isn’t. Yes, we benefit from the collaboration because of the confidence and trust that is shared between us. I know he will work hard and go the extra mile to help those I refer to him. He knows this of me too. Yet, the most important part of our meeting is how our complimentary services have benefited those that have served and their families. He most often refers individuals who have suffered in silence for years due to experiences from their service. Most often it is combat related. veteran-blogHe tells them how things can get better and how they can feel better. He offers hope from someone who has been there. He helps connect them to the services they need. And they get better. When they come to our Veterans Program I give them information about what they are dealing with, the sense of isolation reduces, they feel the support, more things seem possible, and more gets done. I tell them, “You didn’t get here by yourself, so build a unit that will help you get out of this.” Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Veterans Program can be part of that unit. A County Veterans Service Officer is part of my unit. And we press forward . . . offering hope and services to those who want them and who no longer want to suffer alone.

Dr. Cristy Gamez-Galka, Mental Health Lead for Fort Bend Veterans Case Management Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Easter Seals Greater Houston is proud to offer a variety of services that Veterans and their families can benefit from including Fort Bend Veterans Case Management Program, Fort Bend Veterans Companion Dog Program, Bank On Montgomery County as well as the collaborative efforts of the Texas Veterans + Family Alliance.

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