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Will buildup improve services for disabled?

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by Michele Catahay

Guam - With the Guam military buildup set to take place in the next several years, the Guam Developmental Disabilities Council is hoping much-needed services will be provided by then.  Chairperson Evelyn Duenas says the island needs to provide reliable service when it comes to helping individuals with disabilities.

She says as it stands, service providers aren't providing enough. "Services we technically have a lot of problems here and there, but we manage to work with it. We just need service providers like DISID to really come to the forefront and to assist us with what's needed because without them, we're the driving force, but with the agency we need their support even the leaders and lawmakers to support us through it," she told KUAM News.

Several have spoke out about needs for those with disabilities. According to Council executive director Manny Cruz, they're looking at creating a new five-year strategic plan to identify areas of improvement. He says while areas such as housing and transportation have improved, the island needs to focus on improving areas of employment, education and health for individuals with disabilities.

"A lot of our consumers and stakeholders are having problems with getting people with disabilities, getting them a job, a lot of kids with disabilities not being properly educated and of course we have major financial issues with the Department of Public Health and Social Services," added Cruz.

Cruz is a member of the Subcommittee on Health when dealing with issues pertaining to the military buildup. He says Guam needs funding to support services for the civilian population. He says the members of the Council act as advocates for programs rather than being service providers.

"The situation that we're looking at, the military, as you know take care of their own. Right now if the military should ever come here, we would like the military, especially the Marines, to see whether they can help us out. The people in Okinawa have a facility where they start out there and mainstream them," he explained.

In the meantime, Guam Legal Services Executive Director Harold Parker says while federal laws require the island to provide much-needed services, he says the military has their own provisions which prevent those with disabilities to come to remote places like Guam. "The whole problem is that they recognize that Guam, as small at it is, does not have resources for the developmental disabled," he told KUAM News.  "They don't want to end up providing services for those individuals. So they tend to avoid sending people to Guam that might need them and that includes dependents, and so on."

Duenas she will continue to fight for herself and others to ensure this community gets what is needed with thousands of people coming to Guam for the buildup.  She stated, "Individuals like myself who need support services are being solely placed out in the cold again, but being vocal and being a self advocate will provide the support that I need as well as others."

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