American Samoa welcomes AUKUS; seeks federal aid for new hospital
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
American Samoa welcomes its role in the Indo-Pacific defense under the trilateral security agreement among the United States, Australia the United Kingdom, said Congresswoman Uifa'atali Amata, the territory's delegate to the U.S. Congress.
Amata said American Samoa is one of the three anchors of the AUKUS aimed at keeping in check Chinese expansion into the Pacific region.
“People familiar with World War II history think of places like Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu and Tinian but are less aware that while American Samoa thankfully was not a front-line battleground, the territory served as a vital staging area for the U.S. armed services in the Pacific theater," Amata said.
“We are proud to be able once again to serve our country's security needs in the challenging period that lies ahead," Amata said. "Just as Hawaii is the northern anchor of AUKUS, American Samoa is proud to be the southern anchor along with Australia."
Amata said her priority in Congress is to secure funding for a new, state-of-the-art hospital.
She said American Samoa's new hospital would be a critical component of regional security.
At the same time, Amata said the hospital can make maximum use of internet and other modern communications technology to provide quality health care through telemedicine not only to American Samoans but to the rest of the region.
A reliable medical facility will reduce the need for long-travel to such metropolitan centers as Auckland, Sydney and Honolulu for specialized treatment that could be provided in American Samoa, Amata said.
She said the territorial government says it will set aside a major portion of the $479 million, potentially upwards of $300 million, in recently granted stimulus funds from the federal government toward such a facility, but that additional authorization legislation from Congress will be required to enable American Samoa, and other territories or states to use those funds for critical healthcare infrastructure.
A new facility would on the western side of Tutuila convenient to the airport, whose main runway already has the capacity to handle the largest aircraft flying anywhere in the world today.
The VA alone spends millions of dollars each year just to fly military retirees to Honolulu for checkups and treatment because the department has judged American Samoa's only hospital below minimum VA standards for the treatment of veterans.
In study mandated by Congress three years ago, the Government Accountability Office gave American Samoa's half-century-old Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center a failing grade.
The study said the project could reach $900 million and take up to 10 years to complete depending on decisions in scope.
Amata has been successful in having $2.5 million for initial planning and design work added to this year's Interior budget, which is still pending in Congress but likely to pass at the end of the year.
Finally, there is also pending proposed legislation passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee as part of the $3.5 trillion proposed stimulus plan that could grant American Samoa up to $150 million over 10 years toward the development of the hospital.
This funding is dependent upon final passage of new stimulus funds and subject to modifications or reductions in the negotiation of the overall package.
Additional funding will be pursued from other agencies as well, including the Department of Interior, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and Department of Defense.