Filipino vets who served U.S. deserve benefits
FILIPINO VETERANS have long sought to have their active military service during World War II properly recognized. In recent years they have lobbied in support of legislation that would deem their service as active service for purposes of benefits under programs administered by the secretary of Veterans Affairs.
What does this mean? It means they would receive the benefits as though their service had been in the U.S. armed forces. Of course, some Filipinos formally served in the U.S. armed forces, and they receive all benefits accorded U.S. veterans.
The issue, however, concerns those who were not part of the American military, but who fought alongside U.S. soldiers.
The strongest argument in favor of providing full veterans benefits to the Filipino veterans rests on two factual representations cited in resolutions passed by our own Honolulu City Council and the state House of Representatives, namely, that President Roosevelt's July 26, 1941, executive order indicated that those Filipinos volunteering for the Philippine Commonwealth Army and the Philippine Scouts would be entitled to full veterans benefits for active service during the war. But the Feb. 18, 1946, Rescission Act withdrew U.S. veterans status from these Filipinos, in effect breaking our promise.
Two measures have been introduced this year to make good on our promise. Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-Calif.), as well as 10 other U.S. representatives, initially introduced HR 302 in the House of Representatives. The measure has been referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
The companion measure is S 146, introduced in the Senate by Hawaii's Sen. Daniel Inouye. That measure has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, on which Sen. Daniel Akaka is the ranking minority member. The short title for each of the bills is "Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2005."
THESE BILLS amend Section 107 of title 38, U.S. Code, such that service in the organized military forces of the Philippines and in the Philippine Scouts is deemed to be active service for purposes of receiving benefits administered by the secretary of Veterans Affairs. The result of this amendment will be that a Filipino having served in the military forces of the Philippines or in the Philippine Scouts will receive the same benefits as a veteran who served in the U.S. armed forces. Right now, they receive some, but not all, benefits.
Examples of some of the key U.S. veterans benefits include health care, survivor and burial benefits. Eligibility depends on individual circumstances. And certain VA benefits require wartime service, so not all U.S. veterans receive the same benefits.
The U.S. recognizes service in four groups as qualifying for some VA benefits.
» Regular or "old" Philippine Scouts. The Scouts were a small but regular component of the U.S. Army.
» Commonwealth Army of the Philippines. These veterans were called into the service of the U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE).
» Guerrilla service. Guerrillas were part of the USAFFE.
» New Philippine Scouts. Those Scouts who served before Oct. 6, 1945, are entitled to all VA benefits, but those who began serving after that date receive limited VA benefits.
One needs to remember that the particular circumstances of Filipino fighters differed considerably. Some of the Filipino veterans actually served in the U.S. military (these veterans receive all benefits). Other Filipino veterans clearly served in the Philippine government forces (they receive no U.S. veterans benefits). Still other Filipino veterans fall "somewhere in the middle," as the VA explains, and these receive some, but not all, VA benefits.
Yet given those distinctions, the Japanese forces occupying the Philippines used the same guns, bullets and bayonets against the Filipino fighters, regardless of the formal arrangements and designations under which they took up the cause of liberation. They all bled when wounded, and died with the same hope of ending the Japanese occupation. The horrors of combat did not recognize the distinctions we make much of today.
The bills as introduced take the bright-line approach of according the same benefits to Filipino veterans that are accorded to veterans of the U.S. armed forces. The bright-line approach is the only one consistent with the position that at the time of the Japanese invasion the Philippines was in fact a territory, not an independent country, and so all service by Filipinos during World War II should be deemed service in the U.S. military. The fact that the Philippines was a territory was probably a factor in making it a target for the Japanese invasion.
Because of the cost, the policy argument against the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill has been that the Philippine government should make up the difference, in effect caring for its own people. Consequently, this issue received little support over the years from either national political party.
With the high cost of Hurricane Katrina and the military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, it will still take a lot of lobbying to move these bills forward, given the price tag. But try we must. This is not just a Filipino issue, but is a veterans' issue. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, but about what is right.
Gov. Linda Lingle strongly supports passage of these Filipino veterans equity measures and has written to President Bush and the chairmen of the respective U.S. House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees.
She personally raised this issue with Secretary Jim Nicholson of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department when he visited with her in Hawaii at Washington Place.
Yet it is not enough to let the elected leaders work on this issue. In the late 1990s, when I served in the state House of Representatives, I had the privilege of flying to Washington, D.C., and testifying before Congress in support of these measures. Nearly 10 years have passed since I provided that testimony!
Every person committed to justice and fairness needs to speak up now. Now is the time to write, e-mail or fax Congress urging the swift passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act.
We cannot delay on this issue. The veterans cannot wait. In a few years there will be no Filipino veterans alive to benefit from passage of these measures. Justice delayed will be justice denied. Panahon na! The time is now!
David R. Pendleton is a senior policy analyst for Gov. Linda Lingle