Letter from Bounthanh L. Phommasathit to Congressman Steve Chabot

Bounthanh L. Phommasathit 13677 Mottlestone Drive NW Pickerington, Ohio 43147 Email: Bounthanh@dhmcorp.net

July 24, 2012 Congressman Steve Chabot 2351 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 Dear Congressman Chabot: I was born in the Province of Xiengkhouang, Laos. In 1967, the height of the nine-year U.S. bombing of Laos, I was in elementary school along with my siblings and we were surrounded by the wreckage of war. We lived in the northeast, which suffered the worst of those deadly years of bombings. When the planes came, whether we were in school or at home, we ran to an underground bomb shelter for protection. I still remember vividly the day my village was destroyed. I will never forget the horrific things I saw. My family was lucky enough to escape the massive destruction, fleeing Laos and arriving in the United States as refugees in late 1979. Today I work for the state of Ohio as the Program Coordinator for the Commission on Minority Health in Columbus. It took a lot of effort to get where I am today. My family and I started our lives from the ground up. I was able to complete two college degrees, a Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Science and Human Services Management in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, I was able to assist and established a non-profit organization to support my fellow former refugees in adjusting their new lives to the American culture and system. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had in the United States, and I am a proud American and Ohioan. But I cannot forget the millions of people in the country where I was born who continue to live with the legacy of the bombings every day. An estimated 80 million cluster bombs and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) are buried in fields, roads, and villages across the country. Over 100 people were killed or maimed last year from UXO accidents, many of them children who tamper or play with cluster bombs the size of oranges or soup cans. During her recent visit to Laos, Secretary Hillary Clinton toured the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) and met with Phongsavath Souliyalat, a survivor of a UXO accident who lost both hands and his eyesight when a cluster bomb exploded in his hands on his 16th birthday. Her message to Phongsavath was that the U.S. must do more to clean up cluster bombs so that new generations of Lao children can grow up in peace and safety. I agree with Secretary Clinton: we must do more. Over the past 18 years, the U.S. has contributed an average of $2.6 million per year to clearing UXO, assisting accident survivors like Phongsavath, and educating children about the risks of cluster bombs. In the last couple of years, Congress has begun to understand the enormity of this problem and the obligation that the United States has to help clear Laos of these bombs. This year, the Appropriations committees of the House and Senate recommended that no less than $9 million be spent cleaning up bombs from Laos and other countries where contamination was caused by U.S. bombing. This gives me hope. Even during a time of fiscal austerity, the United States must live up to its core principles of justice and fairness — we must do what is necessary to allow the people of Laos to be free of the fear and suffering caused by this 40-year-old legacy. I am writing to you as a concerned Ohioan and Lao-American. You have visited the COPE Center yourself and took the time to write about the UXO crisis in your blog after your trip to Laos. I hope now you will stand up in Congress for what is right: end this legacy now, so that the U.S. and Laos may begin a new legacy of peace together. Sincerely, Bounthanh Phommasathit