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Congress approves $700 million in Ebola funding for troop deployment

Airmen from the 633rd Medical Group of the U.S. Air Force unload equipment for a 25-bed hospital to aid Liberian health workers.John Moore/Getty Images Airmen from the 633rd Medical Group of the U.S. Air Force unload equipment for a 25-bed hospital to aid Liberian health workers.

Congress has released an additional $700 million to support U.S. military efforts in West Africa to stop Ebola — while seeking assurances that troops would be kept out of contact with the disease.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the release of funds Thursday, on top of the $50 million previously approved.

The money comes days after General David M. Rodriguez, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, estimated military operations in the hotbed of the disease in West Africa would cost $750 million over the next six

months.

More than 400 U.S. troops are already in the area to provide humanitarian assistance and as many as 4,000 more could arrive over the next few weeks.

The humanitarian effort includes military personnel working in and around the Liberian capital of Monrovia, building and subsequently running mobile medical labs called Ebola Treatment Units, or ETUs, to assist local health care workers diagnosing patients with Ebola. The labs are designed to process as many as 100 samples per day.

The airmen are setting up the modular hospital, known by the military as an expeditionary medical support system, or EMEDS, near the international airport ouside of Monrovia.John Moore/Getty Images The airmen are setting up the modular hospital, known by the military as an expeditionary medical support system, or EMEDS, near the international airport ouside of Monrovia.

There was significant concern that military personnel would be exposed to Ebola but earlier this week, Rodriguez clarified that military personnel working in these labs won’t be interacting with patients.

Rodriguez said this week that troops are receiving strict predeployment training before entering the region. If a member of the military contracts Ebola, that person will be returned to the U.S.

But in approving funds for military operations in West Africa, House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Frelinghuysen in a statement on Thursday expressed his “serious concerns” about the safety of service members in the region.

“We have no greater obligation than to ensure their well-being while they act on our behalf.”

The airmen will train U.S. public health service members in using the hospital's medical equipment, but will not be involved in treatment of Ebola patients.John Moore/Getty Images The airmen will train U.S. public health service members in using the hospital’s medical equipment, but will not be involved in treatment of Ebola patients.

At a Pentagon meeting Wednesday, President Obama said, “I’ve instructed folks we’re not going to compromise the health and safety of our armed services.”

In late September, airmen from the 633rd Medical Group were sent to support humanitarian relief operations in Ebola-stricken African nations.

A total of 1,400 from the U.S. Army are expected to head to Liberia over the next few weeks as part of Operation United Assistance — 700 from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and another 700 who are primarily combat engineers.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced 100 Marines based in Moron, Spain, would deploy temporarily to Monrovia, but they will only remain a few weeks until the Army is in place to take over the long-term operation.

Additionally, the mobile medical labs will be staffed by personnel from the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center. So far, three labs are in operation and there are requests to establish four more.

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