US hospital ship returns to Norfolk after treating Venezuelan migrants

In this October 2018 photo, the hospital ship USNS COMFORT (T-AH 20) leaves for an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command's Enduring Promise initiative. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel E. Gheesling/Released)
In this October 2018 photo, the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) leaves for an 11-week medical support mission to Central and South America as part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise initiative. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel E. Gheesling/Released)

A U.S. Navy hospital ship has returned home after its crew treated thousands of people in Central and South America, including migrants who fled crisis-wracked Venezuela.

Kevin Buckley, the commanding officer for medical operations on the USNS Comfort, said Tuesday that 26,000 people were treated for anything from hernias to cataracts.

Buckley spoke on a pier at Naval Station Norfolk where the Comfort is based.

The 11-week mission stopped in countries that included Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Those nations are home to hundreds of thousands of struggling Venezuelans.

Many are desperately seeking health care and fled Venezuela because of a lack of access to doctors and medicine. A recent report estimated 20,000 doctors have left Venezuela since 2012.

The Comfort also visited the Central American country of Honduras.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.