Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center
Doc's deployment helps weary VA employees, vets
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – In a hallway of the San Juan VA Medical Center here, Department of Veterans Affairs Dr. John R. Molinaro stopped to thank a pair of operating room nurses. “You’re the rock stars,” he bragged, placing his hand on their shoulder for reassurance. They exchanged some pleasantries, and he continued his walk.
“That’s probably what’s most important,” he said as he walked on, “to let them know what they do matters.”
Molinaro, an anesthesiologist from the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., has been here since Oct. 11, part of the VA’s Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System. He said service was his impetus to deploy; service to Puerto Rican Veterans and his VA colleagues in need.
“You hear the same story over and over. Each time, it catches you. They come to work and they leave a home that has -- for the most part -- no electricity and no water. If they’re lucky, they have a generator so they can turn on a light or run the refrigerator for 10 or 12 hours and try to keep the food from spoiling. If they’re lucky, they can get water out a swimming pool to flush their toilets, otherwise they can’t flush.
“Then they leave work to try to find water and gasoline. They have to stand in line at banks because there are no ATMs. Food, water and gas are an extraordinary effort. Then they go home, they sit in the dark and help try to take care of their families, and the next day they come back to work,” Molinaro said.
The Upstate New York-born Molinaro served four years in the Air Force and formerly enrolled as a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, so he’s used to deploying. When Hurricane Harvey overwhelmed Houston, Molinaro discovered DEMPS and wanted to go, but couldn’t get enrolled in time to be helpful. When the storms clobbered Puerto Rico, the VA expedited his DEMPS paperwork and sent him on his way.
Molinaro said he’s been involved “with a bit more than a dozen” surgeries, which isn’t the usual case load. Many elective surgeries were canceled. “People don’t want to come here, get operated on and go home to no electricity, no water, no food, no refrigeration, and no air conditioning. So, that load has diminished, but the acuity and severity is probably higher.”
Like his colleagues, Molinaro tries to educate friends and family about the situation here. “I’ve been telling everybody and my friends how tough it is for these people. I want people to know and maybe they can continue to understand the severity of the situation and how long it’s going to take these people to bounce back.”
Molinaro’s boss in Georgia is Dr. Terri G. Lockhart, the acting chief of staff at VA Augusta. She said Molinaro’s service is sort of character that makes the VA great.
“I am proud that he has answered the call to serve others outside the confines of assigned duty,” Lockhart said. “This reflects his professional and his personal commitment to use his talents to support humanity. We are all one VA. I am proud to be on his team.”
He’ll return to Augusta Oct. 23, a place where he’s served Veterans for nine years. Molinaro said he’ll take a day off, and then it’s back to work. “Everybody’s fatigued. I’m fatigued,” but he’s stayed motivated for his entire tour. “I think what we do is important and it gratifies me. [There are people] suffering, but despite that, they have been extremely gracious, warm and welcoming.”
“Life’s been good for me. My country’s been good for me. That’s the reason I’m at the VA.”