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Author Topic: Benefits struggle for Filipino Vets  (Read 3207 times)
Crafty_Dog
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« on: July 06, 2003, 01:32:14 PM »

From Bataan to Capitol Hill, a Long Fight for U.S. Benefits
*Bush backs legislation that would give Filipino World War II fighters status as U.S. veterans.
*By Richard Simon, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON ? Alfredo Diaz, 86, was back in the Capitol last month, one of a dwindling group of Filipino World War II veterans lobbying yet again for U.S. government benefits they say were promised more than 60 years ago.

In 1941, five months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered all organized military forces in the Philippines, then a U.S. territory, into U.S. military service. As a 25-year-old, Diaz responded to Roosevelt's call, joining one of those units, the Commonwealth Army, and fighting with U.S. forces and under U.S. command in the legendary battle of Bataan.
 
The Filipino troops took part in some of the most fabled action in the Pacific, including the siege of Corregidor and the infamous Bataan "Death March." It was understood, these veterans say, that having fought as part of the U.S. military, they would be provided with U.S. military benefits once the war ended.

But in 1946, five months after Japan surrendered, Congress passed legislation saying that the wartime service of most of the Filipinos "shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military of the United States" and denying them the benefits provided to U.S. forces.

Since then, the Filipino fighters have fought another battle ? for full recognition as U.S. military veterans. Their long struggle finally may be paying off.

Legislation that would provide added benefits to the former soldiers is gaining momentum in Congress, the result of President Bush's efforts to maintain strong ties with the Philippines, an important ally in the war on terrorism, and a post-Iraq war sentiment among many on Capitol Hill to show support for the troops.

Of the estimated 200,000 Filipinos who fought with the U.S. military in World War II, only one small group ? the "old scouts," who were full-fledged members of U.S. Army units ? received full veterans' benefits. Members of other units, including even those who are now U.S. citizens, got far less.

Eric Lachica, executive director of the Washington-based American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, noted with bitter irony that his father, a Filipino veteran who died in 2002, was buried at Riverside National Cemetery ? but when he was alive, he could not get care at a Veterans Affairs hospital for any illness or injury unrelated to his military service.

Some Filipino veterans do not even have the right to be buried in VA cemeteries. In some cases, their families cannot even get a government-provided American flag for the funeral.

The legislation backed by Bush would expand the benefits given to Filipino veterans who are legal residents of the United States, many living in California. It would make the veterans, who number about 8,000, eligible for the same VA health-care benefits that U.S. veterans receive. It would give all the veterans and their survivors full payment for service-connected disabilities; currently, some get only half the rate paid to U.S. veterans. And it would make the veterans eligible for burial in VA cemeteries and their families eligible for VA burial benefits.

Anthony J. Principi, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, also has pledged to provide $500,000 for the third consecutive year to support a Philippines-operated veterans' clinic in Quezon City. An estimated 21,000 Filipino World War II veterans live in the Philippines.

After languishing for years, the legislation received a significant boost when Bush emphasized his support for it during a recent White House visit by the Philippines' president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

With a coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers also behind the measure, it cleared a key House committee last month and could reach the House floor this month. The measure will come before a Senate panel this week.

Although the legislation does not include everything the veterans have sought, they and their supporters describe it as a significant step forward.

"I am optimistic that this year, after so many years of frustration, we will finally be able to do the right thing," said Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), who first worked on the issue as a congressional aide in 1975.

Over the years, the veterans have staged demonstrations to call attention to their plight, including chaining themselves to a statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, their former commander, in Los Angeles' MacArthur Park in 1997.

The veterans have walked the halls of Congress recounting war stories, as Diaz, a Jersey City, N.J., resident, did during his recent visit to the Capitol ? one of the half-dozen or so he has made since 1996. "Thousands and thousands of young Filipinos swore allegiance to the American flag before U.S. Army officers," said Diaz, who wore several of his U.S. military medals, their ribbons fraying with age.

The measure has gained urgency, its supporters say, because most of the surviving veterans are in their 80s.

"I think there was a real sense that if we're ever going to right this injustice, we'd better do it fast," Case said.

Ramon Alcaraz, 88, a former Philippine navy commodore who lives in Orange County, said the issue is no longer just about money, but about "the honor of being recognized as a U.S. vet, a loyal soldier who served the American flag."

Some veterans and their supporters say that Congress should go further and provide to the Filipino veterans the full menu of benefits available to U.S. veterans.

"The Filipino veterans deserve nothing less than full recognition," said Lourdes Santos Tancinco, board chairman of the Veterans Equity Center in San Francisco. "This is a diminishing population, and you never realize how it feels for an 80- or 90-year-old Filipino World War II survivor to be struggling to claim full recognition as a U.S. veteran."

The veterans prefer an "equity" bill by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) that would provide a more comprehensive package of benefits, including pensions for disabled and low-income veterans.

Inouye's measure is likely to be more difficult to pass because of its cost: as much as $100 million in the first year, according to one estimate, though supporters put the figure at closer to $40 million. The administration also has been cool to the idea of providing pensions. The measure moving through Congress would cost the government about $19 million next year.

Cesar P. Patulot, son of a deceased Filipino World War II veteran and chairman and chief executive of the Los Angeles-based FilAmVets Foundation, called the bill moving through Congress "piecemeal legislation just to appease the surviving veterans." He is seeking to organize Filipino Americans around the country to put pressure on Congress and the White House to provide full benefits.

The veterans, he said, were "truly American soldiers."

Boosting prospects for the measure's passage this year, the Bush-backed legislation has been introduced by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The legislation enjoys broad support in the House. Among its sponsors are conservative Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-San Diego), who has called Congress' failure to act to remedy the veterans' plight a "stain on our national character," and liberal Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego), who was arrested in 1997 after chaining himself to the White House fence in a demonstration to call attention to the issue.

Another turning point in the veterans' struggle came in early 2001, when Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), a supporter of the legislation, replaced Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Stump had been cool to the legislation, noting during a 1988 hearing: "While Filipino forces certainly aided the U.S. war effort, in the end they fought for their own soon-to-be independent Philippine nation."

But Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs health subcommittee and a leading supporter of the legislation, said: "The participation of the Filipino forces delayed and disrupted the initial Japanese effort to control the western Pacific and was vital to giving the U.S. time to prepare the forces necessary to defeat Japan."

Case said the legislation is benefiting from the growing political influence of Filipino Americans, as evidenced by the 58 lawmakers who have joined the recently formed U.S.-Philippines Caucus in Congress.

Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) added: "It's about time we fulfilled the promise we made many years ago."
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lynda
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« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2003, 12:05:33 PM »

On a slightly tangential note, I would recommend the book Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.

"We're the battling bastards of Bataan,
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,
?and nobody gives a damn. "

A one-sitting read for me.
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lynda
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« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2003, 12:17:07 PM »

an excerpt from the book from the Random House site http://www.randomhouse.com/doubleday/ghostsoldiers/excerpt.html

Washed up on the far shores of Puerto Princesa Bay, Nielsen was a pitiful sight?naked, nursing two bullet wounds, his skin crosshatched with lacerations. He rested for a few hours and then stumbled half delirious through the swamp until he encountered a Filipino who was walking along a path, wielding a bolo knife. In his current state, Nielsen was suspicious of anyone carrying a knife. The Filipino seemed wary of Nielsen's hideous castaway appearance but was not especially frightened. "I couldn't imagine how he could be so cool," Nielsen said. At first Nielsen worried that the man was a Japanese sympathizer, but then the Filipino offered him water. Nielsen asked the man to take down a letter. "I think I am the only one alive from the Palawan prison camp," he said. "I want you to write to the War Department to tell them about the Japanese massacre of the Americans at Puerto Princesa." Without uttering a word in reaction, the Filipino began to walk away from Nielsen. Then he abruptly turned around and said cryptically, "You have friends here."

Perplexed, Nielsen followed his new acquaintance down a path through dense jungle to a hideout where Filipino guerrillas were stationed. There, to his amazement, Nielsen encountered two more American survivors from the camp, Albert Pacheco and Edwin Petry. "I didn't believe it at first," said Nielsen. "I thought I was seeing things." Each of the two men had his own grisly story to tell, the details varying only slightly from Nielsen's account. Pacheco and Petry had hidden together in a coral cave that was half flooded with seawater. "The crabs ate on us pretty good down there," Petry said. The two men were forced to vacate the cave when it became completely flooded at high tide. Like Nielsen, they started swimming across the bay around dusk, but they'd enjoyed more favorable currents.

Later Nielsen, Pacheco, and Petry hooked up with three additional escapees. Still others would wash up over the succeeding days, bringing the total of known Palawan survivors to eleven. One had endured an encounter with a sand shark. The last arrival, Glenn McDole, from Des Moines, Iowa, was found clinging to a Filipino fish trap out in the bay. Local fishermen hauled him in, half alive, with the morning catch.

By guerrilla escort, Nielsen and the original five survivors made their way out of the Japanese-held province of Palawan, first by foot and then by an outrigger canoe, or banca, powered by blankets that were thrown up as makeshift sails. On January 6, the half dozen men were finally evacuated by a Catalina flying boat to the island of Morotai, where they came under the care of the U.S. Army.
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William
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« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2003, 10:25:55 PM »

Quote
On a slightly tangential note, I would recommend the book Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides.


I wholeheartedly second that. I picked up a copy when I was stuck in Minnesota immediately after 9/11. Once I started, I couldn't put it down.

Unfortunately I lent it out and have yet to get it back. angry  evil


William
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Mongrel Combative Systems
www.mongrelcombativearts.com
Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2003, 12:20:33 AM »

I third that!
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matinik
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« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2003, 03:11:29 PM »

cool book! incidently, pbs had a feature on said book. the program is "the american experience". had  film clips from the actual event, interviews with the pow's (both american /pinoys) and surviving rangers.
great to see some credit going to the manongs of the era! Cool

matinik
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