It remains a tragic, frustrating but also telling statistical anomaly that Guam has one of the highest concentrations of US veterans, but ranks amongst the lowest areas in terms of spending by Veterans' Affairs. A few years ago this led to the PBS program American by the Numbers flying out to Guam to do a documentary on what it is like to come from a place that signs up and serves in such high numbers, but does not translate into high levels of spending to thank those who have served for their sacrifices. I am not a patriotic person in any form really, and I do not take much pride in the high levels of military service Chamorros and Guam in general sign up for, but this poor treatment of our local veterans is something that anger and irritates me as well.
Below is an article that discusses an overview of the PBS documentary, which was titled Island of Warriors.
"Guam's Wounded Warriors"
by Marlon Bishop
July 6, 2016
Guam is a non-incorporated territory of the United States, like
Puerto Rico. Although its residents can’t vote in federal elections,
they can serve in the military — and they do, at rates three times the
rate of any state. At least one in eight adult Guamanians is a veteran.
“Guam is very traditional when it comes to the military,” says
Sergeant Gonzalo Fernandez, a recruiter for the National Guard. “In
every village on Guam you’re going to find a big amount of people who
served in the military. It’s a family tradition to do it.”
That tradition makes it an easy place to get people to sign up.
Fernandez has won the National Guard’s “Recruiter of the Year” award
three times in a row.
“I couldn’t couldn’t duplicate the success I had here anywhere else,
because I’m not sure the people of those places are as patriotic as the
people on this island,” says Fernandez.
Patriotism or Poverty?
At the Liberation Day parade, that patriotism is on display
everywhere. Part of it may have to do with the military’s massive
presence on the island. Guam is known as the “tip of the spear” in the
Pacific. Thirty percent of the island is occupied by military bases.
University of Guam professor Michael Bevacqua says that he believes
that beyond the façade of patriotism, something else is going on.
“Many Guamanians spend their whole life dreaming about the United
States and about how cool it is and that you’re a big part of it. And
then you go there and you find that people don’t know anything about
you,” says Bevacqua. “I think Guam has this problem of feeling like
they’re shut out of America so some people join to try and prove they
are really part of the United States.”
Another major factor, Bevacqua says, is poverty. A quarter of Guam’s
population is below the poverty line. For many Guamanians, the military
is a way out.
“A lot of it has to do with the shininess and the niceness of the
military. It seems like there’s this excess of resources,” says
Whatever their reasons may be for joining the military, coming home presents soldiers with a new set of challenges.
Pacific islanders not only serve at the highest rates, they are
injured and die at the highest rates too. Yet Guam ranked dead last in
medical care spending per veteran by the U.S. Department of Veteran
Affairs, or the VA, in 2012.
In recent years, many servicemen and women have been returning from
the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with physical and psychological scars.
Many say they have trouble obtaining the care they need.
On of them is Roland Ada, a 34 year-old who served two tours in Iraq
as a combat medic. At his home in Guam, he scrolls through photos her
took of carnage on the front lines.
“This is where the IED went off,” he says, pointing to a place on the
screen. The scene is of a roadside bombing he witnessed in which
several Iraqi men and children were killed.
“This Is My Home, I Want To Be Here”
Today Ada suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder because of experiences such as these.
“I still see those children once in a while,” says Ada. “That’s why I
get drunk. So I don’t have to see them. When I get drunk it numbs
Some days, Ada feels incapable of even leaving the house. He says he
has frequent thoughts of suicide. The first time was towards the end of
his active service, while he was on base in Hawaii. Suddenly, while
driving one night, he felt himself snap, and called his brother in a
panic to talk him down.
“I was mad at the world, I was mad at everybody, I was mad at myself,
and I never figured out why, really. That’s what scares me about
myself. That when I get mad, those fleeting thoughts could become real,”
Roland wants to get better. But, he says, he has been unable to find
the intensive PTSD treatment he needs here in Guam. The nearest VA
program offered is in Hawaii, eight hours away by plane.
“Sometimes I think about going back to the States and I would have a
better opportunity and better care that I would here,” says Ada. “And it
sucks because this is my home, I want to be here but I can’t get the
help that I need. It’s not the help I want, it’s the help I need.”
Help On The Way?
The VA doesn’t operate a hospital in Guam. It did, however, open a new clinic for veterans in 2011.
Craig Oswlad, a VA official from Hawaii, responded to questions about
Roland Ada’s claims about lack of PTSD services for veterans.
“We’re very concerned about hearing that from veterans. Over the last
20 years, we’ve been building a health care system in the Pacific to
meet what we call unmet demand,” says Oswald. “All I know is that in an
area like the Pacific, we’ve grown tremendously to help these people
over the years. And we have future plans to go even further.”
A Problem Of Representation
Not everybody would agree with Oswald’s claims that things are
getting better. Governor Eddie Calvo, the highest elected official on
the island, says the U.S. Senate cut funds for mental health care for
Guam two years in a row.
“Unfortunately some of the policymakers out there is Washington DC,
maybe because of the distance that Guam is from the United States, have a
cavalier attitude towards the citizenry out here Guam,” says Calvo.
“Of course it doesn’t help that we’re an unincorporated territory
that has no vote in a Congress or a Senate and no vote for a president.
It makes it that much more difficult to get our voices heard, either in
Washington DC or to the American public.”
For Calvo, Guam’s lack of federal representation is the biggest hurdle in securing further resources for the island’s veterans.
Until those resources arrive, vets like Roland Ada may have to either
leave the island for care of learn to get by on their own—and hope they
make it out without hurting themselves or others. Ada knows his family
is worried about him.
“Every night when I go out to shoot pool or when I go out to drink, I
don’t want them to have to worry and think, ‘is he going to make it
home tonight’,” says Ada. “The only thing that snaps me back to reality
is thinking about my family.”