CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A group of Filipino Army veterans, among them Ernesto Tesoro, met yesterday with U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka at his Honolulu office to discuss the effort to have the U.S. government fulfill its promise to provide benefits to Filipinos who helped the war effort during World War II.
Filipino vets take fight for benefits to Akaka
Assurances by the U.S. senator that he will press the issue are met with cheers
Filipino Army veterans, many of them in their 70s and 80s, continue to push the U.S. government for full veterans benefits, especially a monthly pension promised to them more than 60 years ago.
And yesterday, a few dozen of them took their case to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who pledged to continue to fight for the benefits.
"For the last 26 years, I have worked with my colleagues to provide equity in veterans benefits and services for World War II Filipino-American veterans, and I assured them that I would continue to work on their behalf," Akaka said after the meeting.
That commitment by Akaka was met by "a rousing cheer," said Art Caleda, who served with U.S. Army soldiers from 1944-45, from the nearly 55 Filipino veterans who met with the Hawaii Democrat in his Honolulu office at the Federal Building.
Caleda, 82, said that of the more than 200,000 Filipino soldiers who fought with U.S. Army soldiers in World War II, only 58,000 are alive today. He said about 20,000 of them live in the United States, 3,000 of them in Hawaii.
"Time is running out," Caleda told Akaka. "The veterans are fading very fast. There is an urgency to this matter."
Caleda estimated that at least one Filipino veteran dies each day.
Many of these veterans were drafted in 1941 and served alongside U.S. soldiers in the Pacific war.
During World War II more than 120,000 Filipino soldiers served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. President Franklin Roosevelt's promise to give them U.S. veterans' benefits was not fulfilled when the Philippines gained independence in 1946.
In 2000, Congress gave them partial veteran benefits -- health care and burial services -- for Filipinos who served directly in the U.S. armed forces.
Two years later, President Bush signed a bill providing Filipino veterans living in the United States the same federal health care given to American veterans, but not a monthly pension.
Caleda said that U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has long championed their cause, and they welcomed Akaka's support.