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Honorable Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga

Honorable Lieutenant Governor Eleasalo Ale

ASG 2021 COVID-19 Task Force

Stranded lives matter and we are very grateful that your administration is braver than the Lolo Administration, as is shown in your efforts to bring stranded American Samoan residents home. The amount of people who are now members of the current ASG COVID-19 Task Force — over 30 individuals, I believe — supports your Administration’s efforts, with advice coming from a variety of fields to ensure the Repatriation efforts encompass competency, fairness, safety as well as transparency & compassion. 

In turn, those of us who are on the battle field — and believe me it is a battle field — are offering our experiences and services to your administration to fix the broken issues that continue to unfairly block those of us who want to come home, but for some reason or another, are told to be grateful we are even been allowed to come home at all, and at such a cheap price.

As we all know, it has been well over a year since many American Samoan residents left Pago Pago for medical treatments. I personally left my only child in American Samoa due to my immediate need for off-island medical care.

The border closures in March of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic was the right decision at the time. But, I will say it again, “STRANDED LIVES MATTER”.  Your administration, as well as Lolo’s Administration, was handed millions of dollars to fight the pandemic issues on-island.

To my knowledge, not one dollar was offered to assist the stranded residents with their hardships. So, with no sort of relief or compensation from the federal funds provided to ASG, I am beyond grateful to my family for taking good care of my daughter and trying their best to keep her happy. I know she misses us being home. I, aside from fighting my own battles, have had to stay strong for my daughter. 

(TOPIC for future consideration is the numerous suicides on-island potentially and probably tied to the pandemic in one form or another that cannot be ignored.)

My medical doctors/ professionals have advised me to attain the help of the canine family, which is why I now own 2 beautiful huskies — my service dogs.

Service Dogs in general provide many functions to people who are disabled. My service dogs are invaluable for my condition/ disability.

But unfortunately, the ASG COVID-19 Task Force has demonstrated that they do not know the definition of a “service dog”.

The governor should be told that his Task Force, for all the people he has on it — is lacking the knowledge needed to assist many of the disabled residents for the journey home.

For example, it is only now for Repatriation Flight #3 that dialysis patients have been allowed into quarantine in order to go home. There are only 4 of them on this flight, and while arrangements have been made in Hawai’i for their treatment during quarantine, they are still trying to finalize for the American Samoa leg, according to the latest Task Force update. If it is not resolved, are they going to tell them “sorry no can do — wait for the next flight”.

It’s this lack of competency that keeps repeating itself throughout the preparations for the Repatriation flights, which also can be seen as a lack of transparency & compassion.

I point to the few “ZOOM” calls that made public that there are multiple “lists” of qualified residents allowed to come home. DOH was the gatekeeper of the list of qualified residents to come home using federal funds. Then, and again during a zoom call, we were informed that there are at least 3 lists being circulated for approval for which to identify qualified people to come home. Are the disabled even on one of the three lists for priority?

The federal American Disabilities Act laws protect the disabled including the disabled individuals requiring the assistance of service dogs.  Now, the question is: Why were non-stranded, non-disabled residents allowed to come home on the first two flights? It is very evident that the ADA laws were broken as residents without disabilities were repatriated home in the first two flights. An oversight committee needs to be formed to scrutinize the actions taken to date and have the ADA rights of the disabled protected and the discrimination stopped.

We were excited to hear the Governor state his opinion that “those residents stranded the longest come home first.”  This recommendation from the Governor was not followed.

A right covered by the ADA includes my service dogs to accompany me home. This fact is protected and governed by the ADA, and is being ignored by Director Motusa and the Task Force.

I tried to reach out to DOH Director Motusa and received a nonchalant reply. 

His flagrant disrespect for the disabled was as follows:  QUOTE , that I should be able to return home in another 3 months as "our community (expanding) its knowledge of the pandemic and self-protection, heightening the people's confidence with the system in place to protect over sixty thousand residents, the Task Force MAY consider lifting some restrictions, you should be happy for the fact that [I] have a COVID free home to come back to."

It is now been a year and many countries and Pacific islands are returning to normal lives, yet American Samoa is still trying to figure out how to allow people with Service Dogs into its borders.

I am not asking for any favors or special treatment. I'm only asking to do what's fair and especially do what is legally right by your citizens.

I'm #476, yet I am unable to return home because the ASG Task Force does not have a plan allowing Service Dogs into American Samoa. That's discrimination against the disabled. Just as it is discrimination for the Task Force not to have a plan for people with medical conditions not to be prioritized on repatriation flights home.

It is unfair and disheartening for me, to watch others who just left the island in last calendar quarter of 2020 or even the beginning of this year, return ... while I'm still begging to the Task Force for a chance to return home.

Governor Lemanu and Lieutenant Governor Talauega keep your campaign promises. Now more than ever, we need great leaders who can stop the ridiculous actions that have been taking place.

You may be a New Administration but you are NOT new to this COVID-19 battle field.

Lead and Do the Right Thing!!

Crystal Ve'ave'a