ARLINGTON, Va. - On September 16, 2017 the worst natural disaster on record hit the island nation of Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria. The world saw the damage and devastation the hurricane left behind on news reports covering the extensive power outage and footage of toppled buildings, death and destruction. Despite the extenuating circumstances, Army Wounded Warrior Program advocate Abigail Vega, who manages 54 AW2 Soldiers out of Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico, now had to find a way to take care of them in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
"It was a very hard situation even for me and my family, but I always kept thinking of my Veterans. Just to get to the roads, my husband had to help me move debris and find the best paths. It was a risk," Vega said.
Even with her own family at risk Vega never shook her advocate responsibilities. It took Vega a week and a half to find all 54. "I just went out with my cell phone and tried and tried to find a signal anywhere I could. From the highway, to the fields, anywhere, I needed to know where my Veterans were and that they were okay," said Vega.
Vega was offered the chance to be flown to the states with her family until things got better in Puerto Rico. "I told them, No, I will stay here with my family and we will try to help the Veterans.' All I kept thinking was if I leave, how the Veterans are going to get help?" she added.
Vega's damaged home was used as a focal point for supplies from the states to help survivors of the hurricane. She credits Adapt a Family, the Red Cross , Disabled Veterans of America, and Army Emergency Relief with getting much needed supplies and money to those in need, especially her Veterans and their families.
"I had to work extra hard with families because of the [Veteran's injuries]. Resiliency was very important for all, and that's what I do," Vega said.
Working as an Advocate for the last six years is part of her being and a job Vega approaches with the utmost care and with no boundaries.
"I am that resource for them even in a hurricane, about where they go for help," she said.
While there is still much to be done to recover from the damage, many parts of the island are still without electricity, Vega stays in close contact with her Veterans being their resource 24/7. As she says there is no "off" when it comes to our promise to assist our wounded, injured and ill soldiers.
"It is a passion to help our Veterans so I am always trying to do the best I can," Vega added.
Earlier this month, Vega's dedication and above and beyond efforts were recognized as she was named the Army Wounded Warrior Program Advocate of the Year during the AW2 Annual Training in Tampa, Florida.