Bill would compensate viequenses for effects of military practices
By John McPhaul
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday evaluated measures that seek to advance the recovery and development of the island municipality of Vieques, including House (HR) 1126, authored by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, which would establish compensation for people who show detrimental effects on their health caused by U.S. Navy training exercises on the offshore island.
The resident commissioner led the discussion on the Republican side, serving as a “ranking member.” In the virtual hearing, Vieques Mayor José Corcino Acevedo; Myrna Pagán, a member of Vidas Viequenses Valen; and Dr. Kevin Gardner, executive vice president for Research and Innovation at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, participated as witnesses.
“The United States Navy maintained a presence on Vieques for six decades, during which the island was used as a training and testing ground by U.S. and allied forces, operating multiple types of equipment and weapons,” the resident commissioner said. “To this day, the Navy and other federal agencies are engaged in such an extensive cleanup that the latest GAO [Government Accountability Office] report (which I ask to submit to the record) indicates it will last until 2032. In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Law, along with Representative [Alexandra] Ocasio-Cortez [D-N.Y.], we were able to include amendments for the application of improved technologies in that cleanup effort. But at the same time, residents remain extremely concerned about how that affects their health, in the face of studies and personal experience that reflect a higher incidence of many medical conditions.”
HR 1126, which was co-authored by Reps. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Kelly Trent (R-Miss.), would allow compensation of between $10,000 and $110,000 to be awarded to individuals depending on the severity of the health condition of which they present proof, along with proof of residency in Vieques at the time of the injury.
As compensation to the municipality, expenses would be covered to supply and equip a health center and maintain pediatric and chronic disease services, and expenses for medical transportation and telemedicine services in Vieques. The bill also would allow studies on future environmental decontamination and on the establishment of an autonomous energy network, among other provisions.