Senate to vote on benefits for Filipino vets of WWII
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A bill to provide retirement benefits for Filipinos who fought with U.S. forces during World War II faces crucial votes in the U.S. Senate this week.
Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, is concerned that Republicans will try to strip provisions providing the benefits.
Akaka, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other supporters, filed a motion for cloture, which could force a debate and a vote on the proposal, which is part of the larger Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007.
Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee have held up the bill because of the Filipino veterans benefits, which could increase health care costs by about $55 million over three years.
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Federal legislation to provide retirement benefits to thousands of Filipinos who fought alongside U.S. forces during World War II could be at risk when the measure comes before the U.S. Senate this week.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, who as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has strongly pushed the legislation, is concerned that attempts could be made to strip the provisions from the bill, his office said.
Provisions to provide Filipino veterans with pensions and other benefits equivalent to those received by American veterans are part of a larger veterans' benefits proposal known as Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007.
The Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill, S. 1315, in late July, but it has been stalled by Republicans who have objected to the benefits for Filipino veterans.
Akaka, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other supporters, on Thursday filed a motion for cloture, a procedural move that attempts to bring the bill to the floor for debate and an up-or-down vote.
"This legislation will enable Congress to begin to rectify a wrong done to Filipino World War II veterans over 60 years ago," Akaka said in a statement released through his office. "The United States has a moral obligation to care for those who have served under its flag."
Reid (D, Nevada) said obstinacy from Republican leadership to move on the bill left him with no other choice.
"I have no alternative but to file cloture on this matter," Reid said in introducing the cloture motion. "Otherwise, of course, another day would be lost. So I am disappointed that I need to file this."
The cloture motion is expected to proceed Tuesday. If approved by at least 60 senators, it would allow for up to 30 hours of discussion on the bill, followed by a vote.
During the discussion, amendments may be proposed.
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, Akaka's press secretary, said ranking Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee have opposed the benefits for Filipino veterans and might try to oppose it again.
They have "objected to it every step of the way," he said.
North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr sits as the ranking GOP member on the committee. He replaced Sen. Larry Craig, who was stripped of his seniority last year following publicity over his arrest in an airport restroom on charges of lewd conduct.
Burr had agreed to let the veterans legislation move earlier, but only if the bill was amended to remove the benefits for World War II veterans living in the Philippines, Akaka's office said.
Similar bills to support Filipino veterans have been introduced in the past, but typically have stalled because of cost concerns.
The Congressional Budget Office in August estimated that a three-year phase-in of the Filipino veterans would increase health care costs for the Department of Veterans Affairs by about $55 million over that period.
The budget office estimated the number of eligible veterans to be about 24,000 by 2012, although the Philippines government last year collected data placing the number at about 18,000.
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.
Though 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.