Historic Debate on Filvets Bill Up Before Full Senate

by Joseph Lariosa (Special to the Asian Journal)

CHICAGO, Illinois — When US Senate session resumes after Dec. 3, it will deliberate for the first time, the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill  sponsored by Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (Dem.). He is Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee.

Originally Senate Bill 57, the “Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007” will provide for the first time starting May 1, 2008 a flat rate of $3,600 annually disability pension for single Filipino veterans living in the Philippines; $4,500 annually for married veterans; and $2,400 annually for surviving spouses.

To be eligible, a veteran “must have income below a certain threshold, have served during a period of war, and have a permanent and total non-service-connected disability.”

For this proposed Senate bill to take effect, the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo should propose to Philippine Congress to repeal a current Philippine law that prohibits Filipino veterans from receiving “pension benefits and medical care” from the Philippine government if they are receiving United States pension.

The closest thing this happened was during the Johnson and Marcos Administrations in mid-sixties when members of the US Congress visited the Philippines and the Philippine Congressional delegation returned a visit to Washington, DC to take a hard look on the grant of benefits to Filipino World War II veterans.

Unfortunately, the recommendations of both congresses did not even go past the committee levels of both the US Senate and the House of Representatives.

Last Nov. 8,  Sen. Dick Durbin (Dem.-IL), Assistant Majority Leader, “propounded unanimous consent agreements” on two bills reported by the Veterans Affairs Committee — S. 1233, the proposed “Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury and other Health Programs Improvement Act of 2007” and S. 1315, the proposed “Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007,” the Senate version of the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill.

In his report to the Senate last Nov. 4, Senator Akaka said both bills will be considered “at any time determined by the majority leader, following consultation with the Republican leader” that also provides that the only amendments that would be in order would be “first-degree amendments that are relevant to subject matter of the bill.”

This means that the Senate will “take up these two bills, ordered reported by the committee in late June and reported in August, at some time with the only exclusion being that no nonrelevant amendments be in order.”

The only senator opposed to the passage of “both unanimous consent agreements,” according to Sen. Akaka, is Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig (Rep.). He expressed the view that some provisions in the two bills are “controversial enough to merit considerable debate.”

Although, he considers Senator’s Craig’s amendments “relevant,” Sen. Akaka is hopeful the debate on the bills on the floor will “go forward.”

If  the Senate passes the bill, it will be sent to a conference committee, where it awaits the House of Representatives version that will be crafted by Rep. Bob Filner (Dem.-CA), House Veterans Committee Chair. Rep. Filner should also make sure to calendar the bill and have it passed by the House of Representatives.

If Akaka’s and Filner’s bills do not pass both chambers before this year’s end, the Filipino Veterans Bill will be considered dead in this 110th Congress.

Among the provisions of the Akaka’s “Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007” are as follow:

Appropriations for several veterans programs, including disability compensation, pension, burial, life insurance and readjustment benefits at a cost of $178-M for 2008; and $1-billion over the 2008-2012 period.

Payments of $1,200 and $4,100 for funeral and burial expenses, respectively, which would increase annually by a cost-of-living adjustment;

For those Filipino veterans who served “in the organized military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines or the Philippine Scouts under the U.S. Armed Forces from July 26, 1941 and July 1, 1946, the estimated 30,000 eligible veterans living in the Philippines will be provided medical care of about $1,700 per person, which would increase to about $2,100 per person by 2012.

While Filipino veterans residing in US are eligible “for full disability compensation” in the amount of $9,600 annually, the Filipino veterans living in the Philippines will get “one-half of the full rate” starting Jan. 1, 2008.

Filipino veterans living in the Philippines applying on or after May 1, 2008 will be eligible for the first time to receive annual payment of $3,600 disability pension for “single veterans”; $4,500 for married veterans; and $2,400 for surviving spouses. To be eligible, a veteran “must have income below a certain threshold, have served during a period of war, and have a permanent and total nonservice-connected disability.”

Filipino veterans will also be eligible for readjustment benefits, including dependent education, specially adapted housing grants, and automotive and adaptive equipment that will cost $11-M over ten years.

Veterans under 65 years old with a service-connected disability may “obtain up to a maximum of $50,000 insurance.” Those 70 and older or those who have permanent and total service-connected disability would not be required to pay premiums.

Disabilities incurred or aggravated during military service should be paid at the same rate regardless of the residence of the Filipino veteran. As Sen. Inouye testified during the April 11 committee hearing of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007: “an injury is just as painful in the Philippines as it is in the United States.”

Survivors who live outside the US, however, will receive DIC (dependency indemnity compensation) and payment for educational benefits at the “reduced amount of $0.50 for each dollar authorized.” DIC’s are paid to survivors of veterans who died of a service-connected disability.

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