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Thursday, July 5, 2001



Micronesians seek fair
compensation for health


By Rosemarie Bernardo
rbernardo@starbulletin.com

Bruno Lat, a native of the Marshall Islands, questions why the federal government excluded medical benefits for his four children.

"We've been treated this way long enough," said Lat, whose children range in age from 7 to 16. "Enough is enough."

About 100 residents from the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands are expected at a demonstration in front of the Queen's Medical Center today.

They want to find out they cannot get medical coverage and food stamps.

The Micronesians have raised questions about health problems connected with 67 nuclear tests conducted by the United States from 1946 to 1962. They are expected to call for medical experts to help them with an independent study of the effects of nuclear testing on the people of the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam.

"We are not treated right yet," said Lat, co-chairman of Micronesians United at Mayor Wright Housing. "That's our concern."

In 1996 the federal government excluded Micronesians from the state Medicaid and Med-QUEST programs. Since then the state has had to pay for their expenses.

In 1999, Gov. Ben Cayetano asked the U.S. government for $11.5 million to reimburse the state for the welfare, health care and education for about 6,000 Micronesians living in Hawaii.

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved giving $5 million to the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs to offset Hawaii's expenses arising from the compacts of free association with the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he sought funding because Hawaii's public agencies "have been bearing the responsibility of meeting these migrants' medical, financial, educational and social needs, yet have not received any federal impact aid despite Congress's lawful commitment to provide compensation."

Micronesians hope the money will be used toward acquiring food stamps for the children.

Julia Estrella, an organizer for Island Tenants on the Rise, said, "It's the kids that are not doing OK."

Lat works two jobs as a security guard for Pacific Night Security and Honolulu Airport to support his wife and children. He arrived in Hawaii in 1988 so his wife could receive medical treatment after suffering a kidney failure. She later died in 1992. Lat remarried and has three children.

Lat currently receives medical assistance for his diabetes and two thyroid nodules in his throat as a result of being exposed to the thermonuclear "Bravo" test on Bikini Atoll in 1954.

Susan Chandler, director of the state Department of Human Services, said: "They're not treated like immigrants. They're in an unusual citizen status that keeps them excluded."

"There's no reimbursement from their home country," she said. "It's a large problem that needs a federal fix."

In a related matter, the United Church of Christ General Synod Committee will hear and vote on a proposal next week in Kansas City to:

>> Pressure the U.S. government to provide just compensation for the Marshallese affected by the 67 nuclear and atomic tests.
>> Find social services to help Micronesians in Hawaii and North America.
>> Implement a delegation from the Marshall Islands to travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby for more compensation.



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