Bill offers Filipino vets the ‘benefits they deserve’
Thousands of Filipinos who fought alongside U.S. forces during World War II would be eligible for veterans' benefits from the U.S. government under legislation advancing in Congress.
Equity provisions for Filipino vets were included in the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, which was passed out of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs yesterday, Hawaii's senators announced yesterday.
U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka, the committee's chairman, said the legislation would restore full veterans status to Filipino World War II veterans who had such status taken away in 1946.
"Our country owes a debt of gratitude to the Filipino veterans and this measure will get them the benefits they deserve," Akaka said in a statement.
The measure, S. 1315, still must be approved by the full Senate before going to the House for consideration.
"We are not losing hope," said Art Caleda, 83, of Waipahu, president of the World War II Fil-Am Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary, Hawaii Chapter.
Caleda, a Filipino veteran and naturalized American citizen, said he and other Filipino veterans' groups will continue to write letters and lobby lawmakers for support.
"We are really expecting the best to happen," he said.
The Philippine government recently collected data indicating that 18,155 Filipino veterans would benefit from such legislation.
Akaka forwarded the information to the Congressional Budget Office seeking an estimate on the cost of the legislation. Similar bills have been introduced in the past, but typically have stalled because of cost concerns. Previous estimates placed the price tag between $100 million and $150 million a year over 10 years.
Roughly 120,000 Filipinos were drafted in 1941 to serve alongside U.S. forces in defending the Philippines -- an American commonwealth at the time -- during World War II. Those Filipinos were promised the same veterans' benefits as American servicemen, but Congress rescinded the pledge in 1946, when the Philippines gained independence.
While Filipinos who served directly in the U.S. armed forces and those who now live in the United States qualify for some programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, many still seek the full benefits that were promised, including health care, pension and survivor and burial benefits.