VA opposes giving WWII Filipino veterans full benefits
by Dennis Camire, Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON — Legislation that would give full veterans benefits to many Filipinos who fought in the U.S. Army against the Japanese during World War II would cost too much, the Bush administration said today.
Ronald R. Aument, deputy under secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee paying even a portion of those benefits would cost at least $4 billion over a decade.
In addition, veterans who live in the Philippines and receive full benefits would have a much higher standard of living compared with the rest of country's population, Aument said…
"VA benefits paid to beneficiaries living in the United States, such as U.S. veterans, do not enable those beneficiaries to live higher than the general U.S. population," he said. "We do not support the bill because it would disproportionately favor Filipino veterans over U.S. veterans."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said providing full benefits for Filipino veterans would cost about $1 billion over 10 years.
Filipino veterans, who laid a wreath Tuesday at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, told the VA committee about their wartime experiences and struggle to get benefits they believe they are owed.
"We served with honor and loyalty," said Benito Valdez, 83, of Seattle. "Today — 63 years later — that loyalty and sense of duty has not faded away. Many of us aging Filipino war veterans believe that it is our American allies who have forgotten us."
Sen. Dan Akaka, the Hawai'i Democrat who chairs the Senate panel, said the Filipinos deserve the benefits they were promised when they fought alongside U.S. soldiers. Denial "means they are not officially acknowledged by the United States government as true veterans," Akaka said.
Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, the top Republican on the committee, said he supports giving Filipinos full benefits but added he's worried about the cost and the standard-of-living issues.
"The same benefit paid to veterans in the Philippines would provide income that is almost four times the average household income in that country," he said.
Art Caleda of Waipahu, a former Filipino intelligence officer, said Congress in 1946 "unceremoniously stripped our well-earned honor and highly deserved benefits."
"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Caleda, 83, who was wounded in 1944 while helping rescue a downed U.S. pilot.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
About 200,000 Filipinos were drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941. Many fought at Corregidor and Bataan and later became part of guerrilla units organized by the U.S. military in the islands' mountainous jungles.
They tied down Japanese forces, preventing them from being deployed elsewhere.
In 1946, Congress stripped thousands of the Filipino fighters of their eligibility for full veterans' benefits to save money.
Since 1992, the Filipino veterans have sought full benefits such as pensions for low-income veterans over 65 — almost $11,000 a year for single veterans — disability compensation, full health care coverage and survivors' compensation.
Most of the estimated 20,000 Filipino veterans still living are in their 80s and 90s.
On the Web:
http://thomas.loc.gov, to search for S. 57 and H.R. 760, the Senate and House versions of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007.
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