Senate endorses Velega as new member of LBJ Board
The Senate last Friday confirmed former Senator Velega Savali Jr., as a new member of the LBJ Medical Center Board of Directors. Velega replaces board member Sandra King-Young, who resigned after being appointed early last month by the Governor to serve as the State Medicaid Officer.
The Medicaid Office falls under the jurisdiction of the Governor’s Office.
Velega’s confirmation means King-Young, who was also the LBJ board chair, will now officially step down from the board. Samoa News understands that her departure from the board was delayed due to the fact that the board needed a quorum — three board members — to legally convene and make decisions.
Although the governor appointed five members to the board earlier this year, the Senate had approved only King-Young, Rep. Faimealelei Anthony Allen and Mase Akapo. The other two nominees, Tofaeono Dr. Victor Williams and Leiataua Leuga Turner, were both off-island for family emergencies during the Senate confirmation hearing of board members in April.
With the Fono going into a three-week mid-session recess at the close of business last Friday, nominations of Tofaeono and Leiataua will probably be taken up after Aug. 19th when the Fono reconvenes.
During Friday’s Senate session, there were only eleven senators present and the nominee needed 10 votes to be confirmed.
Just before the Senate vote, Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono told his colleagues that Velega is well qualified for the post and that he has been working in the government for many years. Sen. Tuiasina S. Esera agreed and added that Velega is a good leader and called for full support of the nominee.
Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao echoed his colleagues' characterization of the nominee, adding that Velega is also a ranking traditional leader from Manu’a District #2 — comprising Ofu, Olosega and Sili villages — which is the district Laolagi represents in the Senate.
“I humbly ask with a humble heart” for the Senate's support in confirming Velega, said Laolagi.
The secret ballots were cast and the result was a unanimous vote to confirm.
Immediately after Senate President ProTemp Nua Saoluaga announced that the nominee was confirmed, Tuiasina quickly said out loud, now “we can breathe properly” instead of holding “our breaths” while awaiting the results. The comment sparked laughter from the senators as well as the audience in the Senate gallery.
(Samoa News notes Tuiasina’s comment is probably in reference to the Senate confirmation hearings for members of the American Samoa Employees Retirement Fund and the Scholarship Board or the ASG Student Financial Aid board, last week. For the ASERF, only two members were passed, and during the SB hearing, an unusual recess was called to give the senators ‘time to take a breath and rethink issues that may be unclear to their colleagues before resuming the voting’ — this occurred after one of the board appointees was rejected.)
In his nomination letter to the Senate leadership, Gov Lolo Matalasi Moliga said Velega brings to the board a “long and distinguished history of service to the people of American Samoa” including serving in the Senate.
“He brings significant financial experience” to the board, after working as Legislative Financial Officer before joining the executive branch as ASG Treasurer for several years, said Lolo.
In his opening remarks during the hearing, Velega said he thought about being nominated to the board by the governor and he prayed for guidance in making a final decision. In the end, he said the decision was that he wanted to continue to serve the government and people of the territory through the governor’s appointment.
Sen. Mauga T. Asuega said a major issue faced by LBJ board and management is finances and Velega has an excellent financial background to help the hospital. In addition, Mauga said, Velega is also a former senator and a person of great integrity.
Velega’s financial expertise was also echoed by Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, who stated that he had worked closely with Velega in the executive branch in past years and “Velega speaks his mind”, which is something needed by the board.
If Velega knows something is wrong or a decision is wrong, he will say it without holding back, Magalei said.
Sen. Avegalio Aigamaua agreed and recalled when Velega was a member of the Senate and would argue on issues that he truly believes in, with the main goal of making sure there is a better American Samoa for everyone.
"Velega won’t argue for personal gain, but for the betterment of everyone," said Avegalio.
An important issue raised by Sen. Soliai Tuipine and was agreed to by Mauga, is for the board take a serious look at re-starting the off-island medical referral program to assist patients who need off-island care.
Soliai urged Velega and the board to find money to fund this useful program, which is needed when patients cannot be treated at the LBJ Medical Center. (The referral program has been on hold for more than three years now due to the lack of funding.)
As a military veteran, Sen. Tuiasina S. Esera urged Velega — who is also a military veteran — to look at improving the LBJ’s status so that TriCare, the health care program for active military members, retirees and their families, is available at the hospital.
Tuiasina said TriCare provides millions of dollars in health care money for veterans but local veterans and their families have to travel to Honolulu because the program is not available here due to problems at LBJ that require fixing. He didn’t elaborate further on the problems or status.
Towards the end of the hearing, Mauga reminded Velega that the hospital is very important to the welfare and health of residents. He said the governor has stated over the months since taking office that “everybody matters” and the Senate knows that Velega will feel the same when he is confirmed as a member of the board.
“To me, everyone is treated the same,” was Velega’s response in his parting statement. He told senators that he has checked with the Veterans Administration and was told that the VA cannot accept the current “standards” of LBJ; hence the reason military health care is not used at the local medical center.
Velega said he wants to elevate those standards so that local veterans and their families are served at the local hospital. He pointed out that the hospital is in need of the Fono’s support when it comes financial needs and other matters.