2606FW: [ViequesLibre] Letter Vieques from Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to HHS Secretary Sebelius [1 Attachment]
- Oct 18, 2013Congresista Luis Gutiérrez: solidario como siempre con el pueblo de Vieques!
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Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 6:02 PM
Subject: [ViequesLibre] Letter Vieques from Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) to HHS Secretary Sebelius [1 Attachment]
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October 17, 2013
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Department of Health Human Services
200 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
Though the U.S. Navy left the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico in May 1, 2003, the legacy of environmental damage on the island, and health crisis among many Viequenses, remains. As a Member of Congress, as a Puerto Rican, and as someone who has fought for the unfulfilled promises to the people of Vieques, I am writing to request that your agency use its resources to help address the health problems of the Viequenses.
The harm to the health and well-being of the people of Vieques as a result of over six decades of military exercises and bombings by the U.S. Navy with everything from depleted uranium to napalm is well documented. Numerous tests and studies show the disproportionately high rates of serious illnesses such as cancer, lupus, diabetes, and heart diseases among the people of Vieques. Little has been done to address this health crisis in one of Puerto Rico’s poorest municipalities. Many Viequenses live in abject poverty, with 73 percent of the residents living below the Federal poverty level. The median household income is $5,900, and Vieques has an unemployment rate of 22 percent. The people of Vieques have a 30% higher rate of cancer, a 95% higher rate of cirrhosis of the liver, a 381% higher rate of hypertension, and a 41% higher rate of diabetes than those living on the main island of Puerto Rico.
The disparity between the serious and widespread medical needs among Viequenses and the deficiencies in their health care system and health care facilities is simply staggering. Viequenses have to travel to the main Island for treatment for serious and expensive conditions such as cancer. Many simply cannot afford their treatment or give up due to the onerous obstacles they face. HHS should assist in remedying this situation. One of many steps your department should consider is having the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) get actively involved in Vieques, particularly since its mandate is to act as the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
I am aware that the Administration has convened a “Vieques Sustainability Task Force,” a collaboration of federal, Commonwealth, and local government recommended in a March 2011 report by the “President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico.” However, many Viequenses remain concerned about the slow progress made by the task force concerning the health situation. For many in the community, the stated task force objectives of assisting Puerto Rico’s Department of Health in exploring options and exploring the feasibility of a “Section 330” health center application, do not suffice and are not the kind of direct and comprehensive solution that the people of Vieques deserve, particularly as they have recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Navy’s departure from Vieques. Medical facilities remain inadequate and serious health problems remain untreated.
Aside from helping improve the existing facilities and help building new ones, your department should provide resources in Vieques to help with diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. The people of Vieques have suffered too much for too long. In helping to address the health crisis among Viequenses, your department would also be helping to fulfill President Obama's public pledge on February 12, 2008 that the Obama Administration "will closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques."
Thank you for your attention to this letter. I look forward to your response.
Luis V. Gutierrez
Member of Congress
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