By Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
Los Angeles – In an email to the Asian Journal, US Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) wrote that he is committed to bring the Filipino Veterans Equity Act to the Senate floor, but did not give a specific time line.
This is in response to last weeks report where Filipino World War II veterans claimed that they would start resorting to drastic measures if they did not see “significant progress” in the passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill in Congress the next few weeks.
In an exclusive e-mail interview with the Asian Journal, Akaka and press representative Jesse Broder Van Dyke answered the many lingering questions regarding the progress of the bill.
Ever since it was passed in both the House of Representatives and Senate committee on Veteran’s Affairs last June and July, the FilVet Equity bill has remained on standstill in Congress. The FilVet Equity bill was part of a larger package, The Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 (S.1315).
Broder Van Dyke said the legislation is a priority for Senator Akaka and his Democratic colleagues.
“S. 1315 is one of several bills reported out by the Committee which are awaiting action on by the full Senate. Senator Akaka is now requesting floor time for S. 1315,” wrote Broder Van Dyke.
When asked what Sen. Akaka’s reaction was to last week’s story about the drastic measures (protest, rallies, and hunger strike) that some Filipino WWII veterans are threatening to do if they don’t see any progress with the bill, Akaka responded:
“We greatly appreciate the support we have received from the Filipino community as we work to pass this legislation into law and provide long awaited equity to courageous Filipino veterans of WWII,” wrote Akaka. “Please be assured the process is moving forward and I am committed to bringing this bill to the floor.”
Meanwhile, Akaka encouraged the greater Filipino public to continue sharing stories “of these proud Filipino WWII veterans with anyone unfamiliar with history.”
” I want everyone in Congress to know they fought to defend the freedom of our two countries and deserve this recognition,” he wrote.
Broder Van Dyke also added they both understand that there is a sense of urgency in the Filipino community for the bill to be passed this year. Congress ends their yearly session in late-November.
However, he feels that it is impossible to predict an exact time line.
“A time agreement will need to be made with the Republicans,” he wrote. “With this session quickly drawing to a close, Senator Akaka feels we must move forward. Since the bill contains a benefits for all service-disabled veterans and their survivors, Senator Akaka is optimistic that it will be enacted before the end of the current session.”
According to Broder Van Dyke, the reason the bill got stalled in Congress is because the Republicans have not yet issued a permanent Ranking Member for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) stepped down from the role. Craig was recently arrested relating on allegations that he solicited sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.
Now that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) has taken over Craig’s role, talks are expected to resume.
Broder Van Dyke also debunked last week’s report that Akaka was meeting in backdoor negotiations with Republican leaders seeking concessions in the bill.
“There have been NO negotiations, secret or otherwise, on this bill,” he wrote.
As for compensation benefits especially for Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines, Broder Van Dyke wrote:
“Filipino service-connected disabled veterans residing in the Philippines would receive compensation at the full dollar rate, an increase of 50 cents.”
Under current law Filipino veterans do not receive non-service connected pension benefits. Broder Van Dyke said that since this is the case, all non-service connected Filipino veterans residing outside of the US would be eligible to receive a flat-rate pension benefit depending on their status as single, married, or survivor.
He said a single Filipino veterans would receive $3,600, married Filipino veterans would receive $4,500, and survivors would receive $2,400 a year.
Filipino veterans residing in the US will be eligible to receive the same pension benefits as other US veterans.
“The details will be finalized during debate in the Senate and House,” he wrote.
Akaka added that he will continue to fight to give the recognition Filipino WWII veterans deserve.
“In my home state of Hawaii the ties between Filipinos and Americans are strong and serve as a model for the world. From my childhood to today, Filipinos have always been part of my extended ohana (family) and I will continue to be an advocate for the Filipino community as long as I am in the Senate. Mabuhay and aloha,” wrote the Senator.