Greater Benefits Approved for U.S. Filipino WWII Veterans
Philippine News, News Feature, Rita M. Gerona-Adkins Posted: Nov 30, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Finally, a historic victory for Filipino World War II veterans – at least those living in the United States.
By the time this story comes out, U.S. President George W. Bush may have already signed into law two Filipino veterans’ bills.
The bills were finally passed by the U.S. Congress in a historic, albeit limited, move providing benefits and health care only to U.S.-based veterans who are naturalized citizens or legal residents, and their survivors who are residing in the U.S.
The coverage of these two bills does not extend to nearly 22,000 veterans living in the Philippines who compose the majority of Filipino World War II veterans recognized by the U.S.
Passed by both House and Senate chambers November 19-21, 2003, the two bills are expected to be signed by the president sometime between post-Thanksgiving and early December – or within 10 days after the bills were passed by Congress. At press time, the White House media office was looking into the President’s schedule.
John Powers, staff assistant to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) – who, as chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was among those who played a stewardship role in the success of these bills – expressed certainty about President Bush’s signing them into law.
“He has been an enthusiastic supporter of benefits for Filipino veterans,” he told Philippine News.
It is the first time in both U.S. Congress and White House history that Filipino World War II veterans’ benefits bills finally succeeded in becoming mandated entitlements.
Earlier in 1999, during the tail end of President Bill Clinton’s second term, an amendment of the social welfare law was signed into law, allowing veterans under the poverty line and receiving Supplementary Security Income (SSI) to continue to receive 75 percent of the monthly amount if they leave the U.S.
This welfare – not veterans – law allowed thousands of Filipino veterans who were living on welfare in the U.S. to go back to the Philippines and continue to receive 75 percent, or $384, of their monthly $512 welfare benefits.
The two bills recently passed by Congress will altogether cost over $19 million a year, starting in Fiscal Year 2004, covering health care for 8,000 Filipino veterans, and equitable benefits and burial rights to a hundred New Philippine Scouts, and their surviving widows living in the U.S.
Specifically, the first bill, H.R. 2297 “Veterans Benefits Act of 2003” – which was passed by the Senate on Nov. 19 and by the House on Nov. 20 – increases compensation that is received by the U.S.-based New Philippine Scouts to the same, full rate as other veterans, meaning from 50 cents to a full dollar.
It also restores burial benefits to them. Altogether, these services will cost $2.6 million a year, starting in FY 2004.
The bill also extends the authorization for the operation of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Manila, which ends this year on Dec. 31 to Dec. 31, 2009. This office services some Filipino veterans in the Philippines.
The second bill, S.1156 “Long-Term Care and Personnel Authorities Enhancement Act of 2003” – which was also passed by the Senate on Nov.19 and by the House on Nov. 21 with a sweeping 423-vote – modifies eligibility conditions of U.S.-based Filipino veterans, thus giving them full access to VA facilities, hospital and nursing care, and medical services, including those without a service-connected disability. These services will cost $16 million a year, starting in FY 2004.
“When these bills become law, this means that money will flow from the U.S. Treasury for services to those whom Congress specify are entitled to receive them – in this case Filipino veterans residing in the U.S.,” Powers explained to PN.
He also explained that the bills would be “physically” delivered to the White House after program procedures are completed, such as signatures of congressional members.
Powers and Bill Tuerk, the senate veterans affairs committee’s major staff director and chief counsel, had worked closely with Specter on the original Senate Filipino veterans bill, S.1213 “Filipino Veterans Improvement Act of 2003.”
Initiated by President Bush after Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s state visit in May, S.1213 was quickly introduced in early June by Specter, the senate veterans affairs committee chair himself, and pushed at record legislative speed toward a mark-up by the committee and eventually, a floor vote by the senate.
The House component of these two bills also had a smooth sailing. Under the chairmanship of Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), the House veterans affairs committee unanimously passed the health care and benefits bills last June.
This was after they were expeditiously approved by their respective subcommittees chaired by Rep. Robert R. Simmons (R- CT) for health, and by Rep. Harry E. Brown (R-SC) for benefits. The chairs of both committee and subcommittees told PN that action on these bills was also at the behest of the president.
While these bills ended up victorious during a Republican administration and a Republican Congress, their beginnings, however, were largely initiated, and mainly supported, by Democrat congressional members, some of whom had authored their own more expansive bills.
These members, in particular, at the senate level were Senators Daniel K. Inouye (who was the first to introduce a Filipino veterans bill in 1989) and Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Patty Murray of Washington State, and the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, among others; and at the House level, Democrat Rep. Bob Filner (CA-51st), who partnered with former Republican Rep. Benjamin Gilman (NY) in introducing several bills, and other Democrat cosponsors, notably Rep. Lane Evans (IL) Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (CA), Xavier Becerra (CA), and Rep. Corrine Brown (FL).
Republicans supporting the Democrats as cosponsors were, notably, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (CA), Rep. Jerry Moran (KS), Rep. Simmons (CT), Rep. Dana Rorhabacker, and Rep. Henry L. Brown (SC).
Reacting to the passage of both bills, whose texts were what he had personally written in the earlier bill, H.R. 4904, Filner, through his communications director Erin Koch, told PN right after the second bill was passed on Nov. 21:
“Today is a momentous day in the fight for justice for Filipino veterans of World War II.
We are making concrete progress in securing fair treatment for many of these brave veterans. But my fight continues – and I will not rest – until we have obtained full benefits for ALL Filipino veterans – not just those who are now citizens of the U.S. All Filipino veterans risked their lives for this nation, and we must give them all the same dignity, the same respect, and the same benefits.”
Filner also stressed that the two bills “should be seen as stepping stones to full and fair benefits for all Filipino Veterans of World War II.”
Rep. Simmons, through his press secretary Meredith Elliott, remarked to PN, “Filipino veterans who served side-by-side with forces in the Western Pacific are still waiting for health coverage they expected more than 50 years ago. They put their lives on the line for our freedom.
As the chairman of the House Veterans Health Subcommittee, I am proud to be able to deliver them the health care they deserve.”
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA), whose legislative district (37th) has 35,000 Filipinos, one of the largest concentration in California, and who had organized a congressional forum on Filipino veterans issues last June, also commended especially the long-term health care provisions for U.S.-based veterans.
Joaquin Tejada, 80-year veteran and assiduous member of the D.C.-based lobbying organization, American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (AFCV), expressed his jubilance by helping distribute eggrolls and cake as a “thank you” gesture to the offices of some congressional members who helped pass the bills.
“I can now go to a VA hospital,” the former guerrilla veteran happily told PN after he arrived home tired from walking around Congress delivering the food. “Before, I was not allowed their services because my service-connected disability condition was not approved.”
Suffering from lack of sleep due to constant ear ache and other health problems, he recently fainted in the corridor before reaching the Senate veterans affairs committee hearing room at Russell Senate Office Building, created a dramatic stir among the committee’s staff, and was rushed to a local hospital where he was treated on Medicaid, not veterans health care benefits.
Guillermo Rumingan, 78-year old former New Philippine Scout who does not hesitate to dig into his personal resources to help facilitate lobbying efforts, including travel for ACFV executive officers, told PN, “Now that I will be getting equal full-dollar compensation, and no longer the humiliating 50 cents to a dollar, I will now proudly wear my medals on my cap.”
Philippine Ambassador Albert del Rosario also expressed his reaction to PN,
“We are elated by this development, which is a fulfillment of the Bush Administration’s commitment made during the state visit of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, to expand health benefits for Filipino American veterans. With greater unity and perseverance, we will proceed step-by-step toward achieving full equity for all Filipino veterans in the U.S. and in the Philippines.”
Not everybody however is feeling exuberant about the passage of the bills. Some see these as not only unfair to the majority of Filipino veterans in the Philippines not covered by these bills, but also counterproductive to achieving the main goal of repealing the present law called Rescission Act.
Passed in 1946 by the 79th Congress, this law deprives Filipino WWII veterans full recognition and benefits.
E-mail messages have been criss-crossing the Filipino American community criticizing the “piecemeal” approach that ostensibly has been adopted by Congress and its promoters, especially the AFCV.
They also blame the Philippine government and the Philippine Embassy for not doing enough to push in a sustained manner the H.R. 677 Equity Act introduced by Cunningham during the previous Congress and which seeks to repeal the Rescission Act, as well as the Inouye S. 68 bill that includes provisions for veterans living in the Philippines.
“It is disheartening to see the continuing injustice heaped upon our brave and aging heroes,” wrote Cesar P. Patulot, chairman of FilAmVets, a Los Angeles-based group.
He and other supporters are planning rallies on Dec. 8, timing them with the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to be held in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Honolulu, New York and Dallas, to highlight the effort of repealing the Rescission Act.
Ryan Eulalia Mulvaney, an Internet aficionado who signs himself as youth advocate for progressive causes, has also been rallying support for the “all or nothing” approach that prefers to focus all efforts on scuttling the Rescission Act.
The objective is to render justice and equity to all Filipino veterans, instead of the “step-by-step” approach that Filner and other members of the U.S.
Congress, and supporters in the Filipino American community have taken.
“Where was Naffaa (National Federation of Filipino American Associations) when H.R. 491, a $1.2-billion full equity bill expired and never again reintroduced in this new 108th Congress? Even PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) and Philippine Ambassador (Albert) del Rosario remained tightlipped, with no appeals to Congress for reconsideration.”
This, he wrote in his circulated email to Alex Esclamado, founder and former national chairperson of Naffaa.
Jerry Adevoso, who was designated by President Arroyo to head the veterans affairs office at the Philippine Embassy and is returning soon back to Manila, remarked to PN, “I am very happy for Filipino veterans in the U.S., but I am also very unhappy about the exclusion of the veterans in the Philippines.
I have always felt even at the start that these bills are discriminatory.”
He also told PN that reactions in the Philippines, according to reports that he said he gets, “are not happy too.”
Plans are reportedly being made by some veterans, including members of the Sons & Daughters of Veterans organization, for rallies up to 2004.
This organization, which, he said, has strength of 1.5 million voters, had succeeded in electing five party-list representatives to the Philippine Congress.
Adevoso also informed PN that his new assignment – to be finalized by Malacañang – would be to assist the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.
NCM Coverage: Asian Media
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