When I was a young sailor finishing up my A School, I thought Guam or Reykjavik Iceland were the two duty stations I really wanted to be stationed. See, I joined the Navy to see the world, and while I knew I probably wouldn’t get to do too much traveling from either Guam or Iceland, I thought being immersed in a different culture would be better than getting bits and pieces of other cultures during short port calls. Twenty years later, I still think I would have benefited greatly from either of those duty stations. I don’t regret being on a ship, I just the education I got was different than what I was hoping for.
Last night, while flipping for something to watch, I decided I’d on-demand Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. He was talking about U.S. Territories and how because of some stupid 100 year old law, the territories didn’t have the right to vote. Just that is stunning enough to have a whole conversation. (Here is a link to the video starting at 4m47s which is where he starts talking about the territories and veterans; further, in certain sections of the commentary below the numbers in parenthesis are the time marks for where John Oliver is making the statement.)
But, he went further (and caught my attention because of the Guam connection). Did you know that 27% of the last mass of Guam is covered with Navy and Air Force Bases (4:47) and that Guam has the highest percentage of veterans in ALL the U.S. States and Territories? And yet, in 2012, they only spent $822.00 per veteran – the lowest of all states and territories. Here’s a good one, 1/8th of the population are veterans and the closest PTSD clinic is on Honolulu, Hawaii at the The VA Pacific Islands Health Care System which is 3803.22 miles. The 2nd closest: Alaska VA Healthcare System which is 4602.17 miles away in Anchorage. Seriously!?!
Now, while that is pretty rough, let’s take a quick look at American Samoa veterans. As of Sept 9, 2014, American Samoa Army Recruiting Station was ranked #1 in the World (9:24) and…many veterans have to carry a passport that says “The bearer is a United States National and Not a United States Citizen”. They can join the military, but they can’t be teachers.
According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, the per capita income of American Samoa is $8,000 (the lowest in the United States), their unemployment rate is 29.8% and there are no numbers for how much of the population lives below the poverty line. Guam has a better GDP per capita of $28,700, but their unemployment rate is 8.2% and 23% of the population live below the poverty line. I would be very interested to know what these numbers become if you take out the national defense industry jobs, though I’d also like to know how many Guam natives hold jobs in these fields.
For the most part, residents of either territory can’t afford the time off from whatever work they do to travel to California or Honolulu for specialized treatment. There is a CBOC (Community Based Out-Patient Clinic) on both islands (consider the wait times particularly on Am. Samoa where 1 in 8 are vets), but we all know there’s little specialized medicine in the CBOCs.
Doesn’t it seem like in all these conversations about the VA and a VA Healthcare overhaul, we as a nation should have been made aware of the AMERICAN veterans on these two islands who get inadequate VA Healthcare? These people fought in our wars, for God and Country…and they don’t get adequate VA health care because they aren’t actual citizens and they don’t have adequate representation in our government.
Maybe I’m naive and stupid to the ways of government, but honestly, this is appalling! The only real thing I can do is write about it so others who maybe don’t watch John Oliver know. So, that’s what this is – me letting you know about the under-served veterans in the American territories. Let others know. Maybe by banding together we can help our brothers and sisters in arms get better healthcare and the help they deserve.