The Navy JAG community rallied to provide claims assistance to dozens of military families affected by unexpected torrential rain that flooded homes and businesses causing Escambia County to declare a state of emergency on in Pensacola, Fla., June 9.
Within hours, the extent of the damage and family needs became apparent. Region Legal Service Office Southeast’s (RLSO SE) Staff Judge Advocate office for NAS Pensacola mobilized to cooperate with the Personnel Claims Unit (PCU) in Norfolk, Va., to provide claims assistance to the affected families. As the office that oversees all personnel claims for the Navy, the PCU was ready. A three-person Claims Response Team (CRT) led by Ms. Virginia Eilmus, Head, Personnel Claims Unit, immediately traveled to Pensacola to assist the affected personnel with the claims process.
Meanwhile, Ms. Bonnie Conlon, an experienced civilian legal assistant in the Pensacola Staff Judge Advocate office, prepared 70 claims packets for the affected families. Because personnel from all military services were affected, she compiled points of contacts to help them file claims with the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. Quickly rising floodwaters swept through Mariner Village, a government-leased housing neighborhood located two miles from Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. The insides of some homes saw up to two feet of water.
When the water settled, it left an eight to twelve inch water line in dozens of military homes. A total of 56 military families, representing all the branches of the armed forces, were affected and several families were forced to vacate. Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Kelly, staff judge advocate, NAS Pensacola, coordinated the efforts of Naval Legal Service Office (NLSO) Central, RLSO SE and the Pensacola Housing Office with the CRT. The day she arrived, Eilmus, conducted a town hall meeting to explain the claims procedures to 39 families in attendance who had been affected by the flooding. Eilmus addressed concerns ranging from the looting of property to the loss of food from the power outage. The CRT established a temporary claims office at the Mariner Village Community Center in the days that followed. Conlon and Legalman 2nd Class Amanda King, also of the Staff Judge Advocate office, provided further support by visiting homes of the families who had not attended the Town Hall meeting the previous evening.
“Being there for the members and their families was our top priority. We wanted to make sure the members were aware of their claims entitlements,” said Conlon.
Lt. j.g. Emil Marcinskas, assigned to NLSO Central, aided the families with legal assistance issues and provided support to the CRT. The combined legal team went door-to-door, explaining claims procedures to those who were home and leaving claims packets and points of contact for those who were not.
“I was shocked to see the waterline on the walls in some of the houses,” said Conlon. “I can’t imagine the helpless feeling they had watching their homes flood and not being able to stop it. We had to remember, this was more than just ‘property damage.’ These were people’s homes with children, pets, and personal belongings who endured this flood.”