Philippine vets fund should pass separate from stimulus bill


POSTED: Thursday, February 05, 2009

Philippine veterans who fought during World War II under U.S. command have been denied U.S. military benefits that they continue to deserve. But the remedy should not be included in the economic stimulus package, as proposed by Sen. Daniel Inouye. That and all other proposals that have absolutely nothing to do with reviving the American economy should be excised from the stimulus measure.

The 250,000 Filipinos who fought under the U.S. flag during the war, inducted to serve under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, have dwindled to 18,000 in their 80s or 90s. They had been promised the same veterans benefits as American service members, but Congress reneged on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's pledge after the Philippines gained independence in 1946.

President Bush signed into law hea lth benefits for Filipino veterans living in the United States five years ago. Legislation to restore pension benefits has been introduced in Congress since then and appeared to be close to enactment last fall, supported by then-Senator and now President Obama.

The Senate had agreed on annual payments of $3,600 for Filipino veterans living in the Philippines. The House Veterans Affairs Committee approved a change proposed by Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Indiana, that would have provided onetime payments of $15,000 for Filipino veterans with U.S. citizenship and $9,000 for noncitizens, but the differences between the House and Senate versions were not resolved.

Congress last year approved a $198 million appropriation to be used for making the payments, but authorization by the current Congress is needed to complete the deal. In attaching the authorization to the stimulus package, Inouye told the Los Angeles Times, “;I'm looking for any vehicle that will carry this forward.”;

The senator's intention is commendable, but the stimulus bill is not just any vehicle. The inclusion of the Filipino veterans benefits feeds criticism that the enormous stimulus package is turning into a Christmas tree, with the veterans provision among the ornaments. Most of the payments would be made to veterans in the Philippines, not in the United States.

Buyer told the Times that he is willing to discuss ways to compensate the Filipino veterans but “;to do so and say it under the guise of stimulating the economy is a complete falsehood and is the lowest form of partisan politics.”;

As chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka is in a position to expedite the Filipino veterans bill apart from the stimulus package, and he should do so with Buyer's cooperation in the House. While the veterans proposal would have been preferable to Buyer's alternative, proponents should seek a compromise before time runs out on aging veterans who deserve to be recognized for their heroism during World War II.