Filipino Vets Still Fighting for World War II Benefits From U.S.

Filipino Vets Still Fighting for World War II Benefits From U.S.

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Filipino veterans of World War II and their families had reason to celebrate when President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill — officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) — on February 17, 2009.

The president's signature on the legislation appeared to mark the culmination of the vet's struggle in addressing what many of them see as a 63-year-old injustice that occurred when the 1946 Rescission Act stripped them of any rights to military benefits. The stimulus bill made provisions for a one-time, lump sum payment of $15,000 for Filipino veterans living in the U.S., and $9,000 for veterans who live in the Philippines. The lump sum payments would be made in lieu of pensions that the U.S. government promised vets who fought alongside Americans in the Philippines.

The joy that came with the signing ceremony had been short-lived for some, though.

Many of the Filipino vets did not receive proper documentation of their service in World War II. Some have said they did provide information for documentation out of fear of retaliation from the Japanese armed forces that occupied the Philippines for much of the war. Others have said they lost documents over the 65 years since the war ended.

Much of the documentation that is on file is part of the "Missouri List," a roster of legitimate WWII Filipino soldiers and recognized guerillas who were issued serial numbers by U.S. military officials. The list was supposed to have been finalized from 1945-1946. It was necessary then to separate the real WWII soldiers and guerillas from the so-called Liberation-time fighters, some of whom filed bogus claims for back salaries and other fake claims in 1945.

As a result, 41,195 claims for payments have been received, but only 15,594 applications for benefits have been granted so far. Of the approved claims, 7,603 are Filipino veterans based in the Philippines, while the remaining 7,991 are Filipino veterans living in the United States.

The number of denied applications currently stands at more than 17,000, according to recent data. Only an estimated 1,700 have a Notice of Denial.

The hurdles facing so many of the vets as they attempt to meet documentation standards recently led California State Senator Leland Yee (Democrat-San Francisco/San Mateo) and U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra (Democrat-Los Angeles) to take up the matter.

"It is our responsibility to end this injustice and start caring for these soldiers who fought so hard for our country's freedom," Yee said recently. "It is heartbreaking that even the inadequate lump sum payment approved by Congress is not getting to those in need. These soldiers deserve full recognition; the least our federal government can do is [to] expedite this small token of appreciation."

Becerra added that now is the time to get it right for the Filipino vets.

"I hope we can make progress because time is short for many of these veterans and they should be able to live knowing the United States of America righted a wrong and recognized the value of what these veterans were willing to do," said Becerra.

Indeed, the average age of these veterans is 86 years old. The Philippine Embassy in Washington estimates that the last of the World Wart II Filipino veterans will likely die out by 2015.

The embassy's Philippine Veterans Affairs Office also indicates that $188 million had been awarded to eligible veterans from the Filipino Veteran Equity Compensation (FVEC) Fund, as of June 1, 2010.

The provisions for the vets in the stimulus bill totaled approximately $198 million, but Obama more recently approved an additional $67 million to be used to settle remaining claims, including any that are approved on an appeal following an initial denial.

The Philippine Office of Veterans Affairs is continuously conducting outreach programs to aid veterans whose applications have been denied applications to go through the appeals process. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs encloses a VA Form 4107, "Your Rights to Appeal Our Decision," in the FVEC notification letter to explain options available to those with denied claims.