Provide veteran benefits to Filipinos in their twilight years
Sen. Daniel Akaka is proposing veterans' benefits for Filipinos who fought under U.S. command in World War II.
Legislation that would extend veterans benefits to Filipinos who fought under U.S. command during World War II is meeting Republican resistance in the Senate. Opponents are distorting history ostensibly to assure more health care for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Richard Burr, ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, has been blocking Senate consideration of a veterans funding bill that includes $24 million Philippine residents during the first year. Burr introduced his own version of the bill excluding Philippine residents as beneficiaries.
Burr said in a floor speech last week that Americans "have done a tremendous job of supporting people who have fought with us in battle, and the Filipinos are no different." In fact, those Filipinos are very different, and to suggest otherwise twists history.
The Philippines were under U.S. colonial rule when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, although they had been promised independence in 1946. Unlike allied troops who fought alongside Americans in Europe and Africa, thousands of Filipinos were inducted directly into the U.S. armed forces and served under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised U.S. veteran benefits to the Philippine soldiers, but Congress reneged on the promise when the Philippines gained independence. Congress partially remedied that five years ago by extending the same federal health care given to American veterans to 7,000 Filipinos living in the United States, including 2,000 in Hawaii.
Those who have remained in the Philippines, now in their 80s or 90s, were left out. They were estimated to number 18,000 a year ago. A bill introduced by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka would correct that omission in the little time remaining.
Burr fails to recognize the Filipino soldiers' role during World War II, saying that Akaka's proposal "takes money from American veterans and sends it to the Philippines to create a special pension for noncitizen, nonresident Filipino veterans." Actually, they were U.S. veterans after the war and entitled to veteran benefits until Congress reneged.
Japan invaded the Philippines to defeat the U.S. occupational forces that it considered in its way in its drive to the Dutch East Indies, notes retired Major Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, head of veterans affairs at the Philippines' Washington embassy.
"Some historians have argued that if the Philippines then had not been a colony of the U.S., it could have been easily bypassed by Japan in its southward drive," Lorenzana wrote to the Senate committee's GOP leadership. "Because of the vagaries of history, we will never know for sure, but the fact is, Thailand, a country not under a colonial rule, was not invaded."