A group of Filipino World War II veterans put on an emotional display this week, turning over their uniforms and service medals in symbolic protest over a longstanding denial of military benefits.
The group had been holding out for a hearing on H.R.210 - Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, a bill that would expand eligibility for veterans' benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs by officially recognizing WWII-era Filipino service members as active military personnel. On Aug. 15, however, the deadline they had given Congress passed, with Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, denying a request for a hearing on the bill.
As Bakitwhy.com reports, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an order commissioning around 250,000 troops from the Philippines into active service for the United States during World War II. While they had served under the expectation that they would be treated as U.S. military service members, Congress later passed the Rescission Act of 1946, which stated that Filipino forces would not be deemed to have been active military.
The United States has made headway on providing benefits to Filipino veterans through a number measures. Many of them are now eligible to receive some level of disability compensation. In 2009, President Barack Obama established the $198 million WWII Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The fund allowed Filipino veterans, both citizens and non-citizens, an opportunity to apply for lump-sum payments. Bakitwhy reports that 24,000 veterans were denied this compensation, however.
Filipino veterans groups say the existing programs don't provide adequate coverage in a number of areas, an oversight they believe the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011 would address.
Advocates for enhanced benefits for Filipino veterans said the protest this week stood as something of a breaking point in their mission to have the legislation heard.
“We will end the lobbying after 20 years but our fight does not end there. We will still pursue the lawsuit now at the Court of Appeals and support the appeal for Executive Order for the veterans who were denied of lump sum benefit in 2008,” said Art Garcia, national coordinator of Justice for Filipino-American Veterans.