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NEWS | Oct. 2, 2018

Citizen-Warrior: Puerto Rico Air Guard doctor serves community

By Air Force 1st Lt. Francine St Laurent 168th Wing

Innovative Readiness Training events allow National Guard members hands-on training that builds readiness while providing local communities with services that may not be available otherwise – such as construction projects or access to medical screenings and care.

For Air Force Col. Victor Toraño, the air surgeon with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard, a recent IRT in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, meant calling on his civilian experience as the medical director for Puerto Rico's Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Service Administration, as well as using his military skills.

The training event was a health care mission led by the Puerto Air Guard that operated four medical clinics in Cataño, Guaynabo, Humacao and Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. During the event, more than 8,200 medical, dental and vision care procedures were performed across all four sites, representing about $770,000 in patient care.

That also included focusing on mental health aspects as well, especially important as many communities in Puerto Rico continue to rebuild after Hurricane Maria struck the island a year ago, Yoraño said.

"Almost everyone was affected by the hurricane in one way or another," he said. "We are trying to really reach out to people and see how they're doing because sometimes we tend to forget about our emotions and how we're doing regarding our mental health."

Reaching out in those ways ties into his focus on the civilian side.

"We have people who live around the island and go into the communities, house by house, school by school, said Suzanne Roig-Fuertes, administrator with the Puerto Rico Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services Administration. "So, we know where the emotional need is."

Local agencies determined which communities needed support and had facilities that could accommodate military clinic needs. Toraño coordinated with Puerto Rico National Guard units on military logistics to support the clinics and used his civilian skills to plan for the event, ensuring the medical needs of those in the surrounding communities were addressed.

Many families left the island after the hurricane, said Toraño. There were also a number of elderly people who found themselves alone in the aftermath of the hurricane, with some facing easily corrected issues, such as needing new glasses.

Eye exams and dental cleanings can impact people's self-esteem, Roig-Fuertes said, adding that for some, the eye exam and corrective lenses can help them continue living independently.

"They are doing something for themselves," she said. "All the people in Puerto Rico are doing a lot of things for others. But sometimes we do a lot of things for others and we forget about ourselves."

The clinics were set up so that patients could get everything in a one-stop shop, Toraño said, adding that participating Airmen and other service members taking part, had an opportunity to both learn and give back.

"There are Airmen and Sailors who are from Puerto Rico so they're getting to give back to Puerto Rico, to their people after such a disaster," he said. "It gives them at least – I know it gives me – special satisfaction giving back to the people."

It also means being better prepared should they deploy overseas, or in response to another large-scale emergency, like a hurricane.

"They're putting their skills to practice, really doing for the population what they are called to do in case they are called to active duty and in case of an emergency," Toraño said. "I think it's a win-win situation both for the Sailors and Airmen, but also the community who benefits."

For Toraño, the IRT has been a learning experience as well.

"I have enjoyed specifically meeting and being with people from all over the United States, who also wear the same uniform that I do and people who are very enthusiastic about going somewhere and helping people they don't even know," he said. "That in itself just fills me with a lot of joy."



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