Tag Archives: World War II

US House passes bill to reward Filipino WWII Vets

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress

WASHINGTON DC – The US House of Representatives passed a controversial legislation Tuesday, September 23, that would pay Filipino World War II veterans a one-time, lump sum payment opposed to a yearly pension.

H.R. 6897 passed by an overwhelming vote of 392 to 23 without objections.

The bill now goes to a conference committee and compete with S. 1315, the Veterans Enhancement Act, which passed in the House Monday, September 22, but removed the Filipino Equity benefits provision in order to do so – a strategic move by Democratic leaders, according to sources.

The “Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2008” or H.R. 6897 would make one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipinos who are U.S. citizens and $9,000 to non-citizen Filipino veterans. The Senate passed a bill on veterans’ affairs in April that provided pensions for many of the surviving veterans but has not acted on the House-passed legislation. Senators could take up the House version or meet in conference committee to work out the differences in the two versions of the legislation.

Filipino WWII organization leaders said despite the lump sum’s approval and the passage of S. 1315 without the Filipino equity provision, they are still committed to seeing through S. 1315.

“Our position here in Washington is that we are alarmed by the passage of the two bills S. 1315 and H.R. 6897,” said Eric Lachica, executive director of the Washington DC-based American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV). “We are hopeful that the final version of S. 1315 in the conference committee can add the Filipino Equity provision so our veterans can finally have that official recognition. As for H.R. 6897, we find it unacceptable because it provides no official recognition, too little too late, doesn’t give money to the widows and it’s a quit claim bill that would surrender the veterans rights to future compensation or benefits.”

“We continue to fight for the principles for equity,” added Ben De Guzman, national coordinator of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE). “We are still committed on working on S. 1315 and to have the committee include the Filipino equity provisions.”

De Guzman also said only 18,115 veterans remain and roughly two-thirds still live in the Philippines.

The Senate bill, S. 1315, passed the Senate earlier this year by an overwhelming vote but since its passage in April, the bill has stalled in the House because of the financial burden the bill carries.

With 18,000 eligible if the bill passes, the bill would allow Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines to be eligible for an annual payment of $3,600 ($300 a month) and married veterans to be eligible for $4,500. The annual payment for surviving spouses would be $2,400.

ACFV Vice President and WWII veteran Franco Arcebal said his fellow veterans are favoring S. 1315.

“Believe me when I tell you that if H.R. 6897 passes none of the veterans would apply for it,” he said. “There’s too much to risk. We would be losing all of our benefits including Social Security Income (SSI), medicare, food bank assistance and house rental assistance.”

De Guzman said while he is pleased that both the Senate and the House finally have passed bills to rectify the situation, questions remain.

“Not the least of it is the amount” for each old soldier, he said. The veterans themselves, he said, “are surprisingly of one voice on this. Traditionally if you ask 11 vets what they think, you get 11 different answers.” They are united in thinking the congressional action is lacking, he said.

Last Push

Congress was set to adjourn this week but the financial crisis and talks of a $700 billion bailout plan may be what the Filipino Veterans Equity Enhance Act needs to keep it alive.

There are already talks that Congress is extending the session until the end of this month.

Still some are not that optimistic. NAFVE are working on the timetable that if nothing happens by the end of this week, both bills are dead.

“Anything that doesn’t happen by the end of this week that’s it,” said De Guzman. “That’s how we’re looking at it. The reality of it is it’s not officially over until the final gavel adjourns the 110th Congress but in reality we’re working on the timetable that this is the final week to get something done.”

Meanwhile, Lachica and the rest of ACFV officials are planning for last minute mobilization efforts.

“We are trying to organize [Filipino WWII] veterans around the country,” said Arcebal.

Lachica said that it’s time for the community to rally and continue to call their Senators and Representatives.

The Filipino veterans would seem to have a champion in the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, a World War II veteran from Hawaii.

His spokesman, Jesse Broder-Van Dyke, said Akaka was meeting with senators about the veterans. Akaka sponsored the bill that passed the Senate with the pensions intact.

“He just wants to give them the recognition they reserve while they’re still alive,” Broder Van Dyke said. (with AP wire reports)



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The Last Hurrah: Filipino WWII Veterans Waiting Anxiously for Bill

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
LOS ANGELES – In what may be its last ditch effort for this Congressional session, Filipino World War II groups are preparing for a make or break September month to seek the passage of the Filipino WWII Veteran’s Equity Act.
“Right now, we are gearing up for the fall,” said Ben De Guzman, the coordinator of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE) to the Asian Journal from Washington DC. “We’re trying to prepare a national action week to mobilize the community before congress comes back. This is really it. We have three legislative weeks left before they [members of the House of Representatives] campaign.”

Executive Director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans Eric Lachica seemed more optimistic.

“We’re hoping that our champions will live up to their pledge. We are within reach,” said Lachica.

House Resolution 760 is a bill that would provide Filipino WWII veterans to receive equity veterans affairs (VA) pension. There are less than 18,000 surviving Filipino WWII soldiers, 13,000 of which still reside in the Philippines.

A version of the bill has already passed the Senate floors under S. 1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007. According to the Senate bill, Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines to be eligible for an annual payment of $3,600 ($300 a month) and married veterans would be eligible for $4,500. The annual payment for surviving spouses would be $2,400, according to the Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate of the S. 1315 bill.

However, since its overwhelming favorable vote in the Senate earlier this year, the House version has received less fanfare amongst Republicans and blue dog Democrats and currently at an impasse in the appropriations committee.

With only a few months left in the congressional calendar, Filipino WWII groups and advocates are feeling a sense of urgency. Though technically they have until the end of the year to get the bill passed, Republicans and Democrats in the House are preparing for their re-election campaign and focusing on the upcoming Presidential elections.

It’s the reason why September is the month to get anything done.

“If we don’t get this bill passed by September,” said De Guzman. “Realistically we are done for this congressional session and would have to start over again next year.”

Jump Start

Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA), who has championed the bill for several years, has tried to jump start talks before the House left for recess. De Guzman said Filner set off “fireworks” proposing an amendment for a lump sum payment to the veterans as opposed to the proposed annual payment.

“What he really wanted to do was to jump start talks again,” said De Guzman. “It worked. Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi (D-CA) spoke on the Filipinos WWII veterans’ behalf. Of course, Steve Buyer (R-IN) [ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs] opposed it. Chet Edwards (D-TX) [Head of the Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee] gave his support. So in that sense it was positive.”

“Filner’s feeling the same frustration we’re feeling,” added De Guzman. “We’re at an impasse. Nothing is happening.”

The reason for the impasse is simple – money. Creating spending to any veterans groups such as for Filipino veterans would mean taking away money from another source. To fund the Filipino veterans equity bill would mean to eliminate a special monthly pensions for severely disabled veterans over 65 who are also receiving pensions for wartime service.

Giving money to veterans in the Philippines rather than US disabled veterans is a hard pill to swallow for some Republicans, according to De Guzman.

“We are very disappointed how it is being characterized,” explains De Guzman. “In reality, the money set aside for the Filipino WWII veterans would not really take away from the disabled veterans. The disability pension was not being distributed correctly so really it’s restoring the original intent.

“The problem is that our champions and Democratic supporters have allowed the Republicans to set the debate terms and standards,” said De Guzman.

Veterans Fatigue

While De Guzman of NAFVE and Lachica are working behind the scenes in Washington, many members of the community nationwide are feeling veterans’ fatigue.

This past year, it has been a roller coaster ride for Filipino WWII veterans, grassroots groups and their supporters. It’s been full of ups and downs with many members of the community screaming for joy but some feeling woozy from the ride.

The momentum from the Senate passage earlier this year seemed to have waned during these past few months.

Lachica said it’s time for the community to make a last push effort.

Lachica is on his way to Denver for the Democratic National convention to rally support.

“During this recess time, community members should make an appointment to see their congressperson just to remind them about the Filipino WWII veterans equity bill,” said Lachica.

Lachica added that the ACFV is hosting a number of community forums in the West Coast to update veterans and supporters of what’s going on in Capitol Hill.

“We are very close to our goal,” he said. “I think we have enough members of the House to support this bill.”

De Guzman is asking for community supporters, grassroots groups and more importantly the WWII veterans not to give up.

“We are a community that has never engaged in a campaign like this before,” said De Guzman. “I know it’s hard to deal with this veteran’s fatigue but the veterans have been marching 60 years. We’re asking the community to continue their support for the next month. We have fought the fight but we need to do another week, another month of making phone calls to our congressperson so we could look our veterans, the manongs, in the eye and say we did everything we can for you. If we win, great. If we lose, we go back to the drawing board to focus on the 111th but we did what we could.

“Our manongs marched for more than 62 years, we’re asking the community to march with them for the next 62 days.”


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