Humanitarian Aid

USNS Comfort to Provide Medical Aid for Venezuelan Refugees

May 7, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone

The United States is sending a hospital ship to aid in the refugee crisis resulting from instability in Venezuela.

At the annual Washington Conference on the Americas at the State Department, Vice President Mike Pence announced the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will deploy to the U.S. Southern Command area of operations next month.

The ship will visit the region to help provide medical services to South America, Central America and the Caribbean — particularly to the areas hosting millions of Venezuelan refugees fleeing the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

A surgical team works on a patient.
Hernia Surgery
Navy Cmdr. (Dr.) Matthew Bradley performs an umbilical hernia operation aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, Oct. 22, 2018. The Comfort participated in an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative.
Photo By: Navy Seaman J. Keith Wilson
VIRIN: 181022-N-SG189-1041

"The USNS Comfort represents our enduring promise to our partners in the Western Hemisphere — our shared neighborhood," said Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, which will oversee the deployment. "U.S. Southern Command is committed to the region in support of our Caribbean and Latin American partners, as well as displaced Venezuelans who continue to flee the brutal oppression of the former Maduro regime and its interlocking, man-made political, economic and humanitarian crises."

Earlier in the day, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan met with Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez at the Pentagon. The situation in Venezuela was at the top of the agenda. The United States and Colombia have a long and productive relationship, and Shanahan said he looks forward to discussing options in the region with the Colombian delegation.

"Today we will discuss the crisis in Venezuela and how — as regional partners — we can work those in the Venezuelan military leadership who are on the side of the Venezuelan people's democratic movement," he said at the start of the meeting. "Our hemisphere's security is at stake, and rest assured the United States will continue to keep all options on the table to ensure regional security."

A sailor measures a girl's height.
Measuring Up
Navy Seaman Jerusha Hainsworth, a hospitalman, measures the height of a young patient during a medical checkup in Colombia, Nov. 30, 2018. Hainsworth was part of the medical team aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Pat Morrissey
VIRIN: 181130-N-CF105-1055E

An ongoing humanitarian disaster in the region centers on the unrest in Venezuela. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country. Neighboring countries — most notably Colombia and Brazil — are struggling to provide services for the displaced Venezuelans. The USNS Comfort will help with the effort.

The continuing exodus from Venezuela was brought on by years of mismanagement under Maduro, Shanahan said. The U.S. has provided more than $256 million to the region in humanitarian and development assistance. More will be needed as the country suffers through violence, economic insecurity, hyperinflation, and shortages of food, medicines and essential services. United Nations officials estimate that more than 3 million people have fled the nation and are calling it the largest migration in recent Latin American history. Other Venezuelans are "internally displaced," officials said.

Ramirez pledged to work with the U.S. to preserve democracy in the region. She expanded the concerns to include the role narcotraffickers play in subverting democracy in the region. The Maduro regime, she said, is providing havens for these drug cartels and Colombian rebels.

A hospital ship is anchored in the water.
Hospital Help
The hospital ship USNS Comfort anchors off the coast of Peru as part of an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative, Oct. 30, 2018. Working with health and government partners in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras, the embarked medical team provided care onboard and at land-based medical sites, helping to relieve pressure on national medical systems caused partly by an increase in cross-border migrants.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Bigley
VIRIN: 181030-N-LL146-1313E

The USNS Comfort will visit a number of countries in the region.

The ship returned from a deployment to the region in December. The Comfort is a floating full-service hospital. It is crewed by civilian mariners of the Military Sealift Command. The medical staff comes from Navy hospitals across the U.S. They will be augmented by specialists from other services and by medics from nongovernmental organizations.