09:45 PM CDT on Thursday, August 7, 2008
By Allison Triarsi / 11 News
BROWNSVILLE, Texas—The Air National Guard at Ellington Field stands ready to protect our borders both on land and at sea.
Part of that duty includes providing free medical care to everyone.
That is evident at a school in Brownsville where soldiers along with our state’s health and human services department help those in need.
“We’re protecting our people and that’s our job,” said Master Sgt. Marcus Falleaf who is with the Air National Guard.
But does that job include protecting foreigners at the expense of American taxpayers?
That’s what some want to know.
Some claim that more than 5,000 people have received medical care at the Brownsville facility in three days.
The military doesn’t know how many people are getting served because they don’t require documentation and don't ask questions.
One woman who spoke to 11 News said she lives in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. It's a city across the border form Brownsville.
She said that she received a health screening, including blood work and a physical exam. It was all free.
In fact, anyone who comes to the facility can get vision checks, dental and hearing work, even free medications.
The military calls this a medical training exercise, practice for when an emergency like Hurricane Katrina hits.
Critics argue that the service is costing U.S. taxpayers nearly $2 million dollars a year.
Master Sergeant Falleaf helps run the program and says it has served seven border cities from Brownsville to Laredo for the past decade.
“The critics say we’re spending millions of dollars on Operation Lone Star in the course of the last several years. We do spend an awful lot of money, but keep in mind the money we’re spending is not only helping people but it’s preparing us from things that may happen in the future,” said Master Sergeant Falleaf.
He says sickness knows no borders.
The activist group Border Watch thinks otherwise.
They released a statement saying, “ ...it’s appalling. Border Watch’s President plans to ask legislators why we’re giving foreigners free medical care when an estimated 40 million Americans struggle along without health insurance.”
Felicitos Cantu says he is one of those uninsured Americans who goes to the facility to save money.
“There are four of us so just imagine what it would cost at the clinic or something. I’m here with my kids. They’re all in, two are in junior high, one is in high school, we’re here for physicals,” said Cantu.
He is not alone, many others share the same problem.
Medical experts say it isn't important where you're from because our military is meeting a medical need.
While the insurance industry struggles to find answers to our health care crisis, without asking questions the military’s providing care to the uninsured.