Filipino WWII vets seeking VA benefits
Rep. Hirono is also being lobbied to shorten waits for family reunification
Dozens of Filipino-American veterans of World War II are lobbying U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono for legislation entitling them to the same benefits as the American soldiers they fought with side by side against the Japanese.
They also asked Hirono on Monday to support legislation that would enable the aging former soldiers to quickly bring their sons and daughters to the United States.
"We're growing old every day, and we don't know what will happen tomorrow," said veteran Jose Vizconde Basug, 81, explaining why he and his comrades need help urgently.
The men fought as guerrillas to resist Japanese troops who invaded the Philippines, then a U.S. commonwealth, in 1941.
Hirono vowed to champion their cause, saying she hoped Congress would pass both measures this year.
"You've waited way too long," Hirono told veterans and their wives, about 60 people in total. "I'm really hopeful that this year you're going to be able to get some justice."
Filipino-American veterans have pushed for decades to obtain immigration rights for their children and the same access to benefits as other World War II veterans.
They have had some victories over the years, gradually winning benefits promised to them long ago. In 1990, Congress passed a bill allowing thousands of veterans in the Philippines to immigrate and become U.S. citizens. Burial rights in national cemeteries came a decade later.
In 2003, President Bush signed a bill making Filipino-American veterans in the United States eligible for the same federal health care that other American veterans receive. But problems have remained, such as immigration laws that conspire to keep the families of Filipino-American veterans apart.
To fix that, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka has introduced a bill that would allow children of Filipino veterans to be considered for immigration outside the quota for visas for Filipinos.
Hirono plans to introduce a companion bill to the Filipino Veterans Family Reunification Bill in the House.
Akaka first introduced the bill last year, and the Senate passed it after attaching the measure to its immigration reform legislation. But the Senate and House could not agree on a compromise bill, and the legislation was never enacted.
The benefits bill has also had trouble making it through Congress.
Family-sponsored immigrants from the Philippines have the longest wait times in the world before they are allowed to obtain visas, because of the large number of applicants. The average wait for Filipinos to receive a visa is 20 years.
About 200,000 Filipinos served in World War II.
Art A. Caleda, president of the Hawaii chapter of World War II Filipino-American Veterans, said there are about 7,000 Filipino-American veterans in the United States, including some 2,000 in Hawaii. There are another 18,000 in the Philippines, he said.