Senate OKs benefits for Filipino veterans
The measure would fulfill a promise to those drafted to fight Japan during WWII
Thousands of Filipino veterans who fought alongside U.S. forces in their country during World War II would receive a special pension and other benefits under legislation passed yesterday by the U.S. Senate.
The Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act was passed by a vote of 96-1, after Senate Republicans unsuccessfully tried to strip the bill of the provisions for the Filipino veterans.
Senators voted 56-41 to keep the benefits for Filipinos, most of whom are in their 80s. Seven Republicans joined the Democrats to defeat the amendment.
"I commend my colleagues for supporting those veterans who stood with us," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, who fought to include and then keep the benefits for Filipino veterans.
Akaka's committee passed the bill in August, but it was stalled by Republicans who objected to the benefits for Filipinos.
Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, argued the benefits would be too costly, would support veterans living abroad who have no service-related disability and come at the expense of U.S. veterans who should be given higher priority.
The special pension, about $300 a month for a single veteran, would place some veterans at 1,400 percent above the poverty line in the Philippines, whereas pensions for U.S. veterans place them about 10 percent above the poverty line in America, said Burr, R-N.C.
"We respect and we're grateful for the brave Filipino fighters," Burr said. "But this is about today, not yesterday. It's about the needs of our veterans.
"It's not about broken promises; it's about recognizing priorities."
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 Those Filipinos were promised the same veterans benefits as American servicemen, but Congress rescinded the pledge in 1946, when the Philippines gained independence.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 most programs administered by the secretary of veterans affairs, many still seek the full benefits that they say were promised to them, including health care, pensions and survivor and burial benefits.
The Philippine government estimates there are about 18,000 veterans living in that country who would benefit from the bill.
The measure, S 1315, now goes to the House for consideration.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, commended his Senate colleagues for their work.
"This bill starts to undo a wrong -- a dark stain on American history -- against the Filipino veterans who fought side-by-side U.S. troops against the Japanese empire nearly 70 years ago," Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said in a statement.