US Congress to probe denials of Filipino war veterans’ claims

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06:01 PM March 16th, 2012

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By: Dymphna Calica-La Putt, March 16th, 2012 06:01 PM

A congressional committee on veterans’ affairs will start an investigation to verify why compensation claims of Filipino World War II veterans have been denied by the United States government.

In particular, the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs subcommittee will “look into methods used by the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) to verify claims submitted by Filipino veterans under FVEC (Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund),” Jeff Miller, House Veterans Affairs committee chair said in a February 17 letter to US Representative Joe Heck.

The probe was ordered in response to Heck’s February 8 request for the House Veterans Affairs committee to urgently look into the denial of as many as 24,000 claims of Filipino veterans as well as the administration of the FVEC.

The FVEC is a $198,000 fund authorized by President Barack Obama in 2008 for distribution as one-time lump sum payments of $15,000 each to Filipino World War II veterans who are US citizens and US residents. Veterans living in the Philippines were allotted $9,000 each.

The VA had turned down 24,000 claims because solders’ names were not on the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. This roster is what is used by the US government to determine military service, including service given in World War II.

The Filipino veterans claiming compensation, however, had proof of US military service from the Philippine government.

“That’s what I want to get to the bottom of. If there is an individual who already has papers showing proof of service to the military, why are they denied compensation,” Heck told Asian Journal in a telephone interview.

In his letter to Miller, who is representative of Florida’s first district, Heck expressed concern over veterans’ “legitimate claims that may have been unjustly denied” due to inaccurate military service records.

“The incomplete nature of NPRC’s service records is well-documented,” Heck said in his letter.

He mentioned a 1973 fire that destroyed official military files, including a large amount of the US Department of the Army’s records of veterans discharged from 1912 to 1960. This historical data can be found in the NPRC’s own website.

“With such a well-documented data deficiency, it’s reasonable to assume that deserving Filipino veterans were denied their benefits,” Heck said in his letter.

In the Asian Journal interview, Heck said, “We need to move expeditiously because certainly these gentlemen cannot wait any longer,” noting that an average of ten Filipino World War II veterans die every day.

Heck also cited the recent passing of 88-year old Filipino veteran Augusto Oppus whose military service to the US was left uncompensated and unrecognized.

Oppus was one of five Filipino World War II veterans who are residents of Nevada, the third congressional district of which is represented by Heck. Compensation claims of these six former soldiers have been denied by the VA.

Also living in Nevada is the oldest living Filipino veteran in the US, Silverio Cuaresma who will celebrate his 100th birthday in June.

Coincidentally, Heck is expecting results of the congressional probe that month. “We are hoping for a preliminary report by June,” he said in the interview.

In the meantime, the Nevada congressman said he is throwing his support to House Resolution 210. The bill known as the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, by US Rep. Jackie Spier, directs the VA “to take into account any relevant service documentation, including documentation other than the Missouri List or the list of all discharged and deceased veterans from the 20th century.”

In the meantime, the Nevada congressman said he is throwing his support to House Resolution 210. The bill, known as the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, directs the VA “to take into account any relevant service documentation, including documentation other than the Missouri List or the list of all discharged and deceased veterans from the 20th century.”

The legislation, filed by US Rep. Jackie Spier, is pending in Congress and has been supported by 88 members of the House of Representatives including Nevada’s three congressional representatives, Shelley Berkley of the first district, Mark Amodei of the second district, and Heck.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas-based Filipino-American Veterans & Families of America-Nevada in a statement lauded Heck’s efforts in assisting Filipino veterans with their issue.

The group’s founding chairman Cesar Elpidio noted how the congressman took to the floor of the House of Representatives twice the past year to give speeches and honor Filipino veterans.

At the same time, the group also lauded Miller for spearheading the probe on the administration of the FVEC.

“We are very pleased at the House VA committee chairman’s interest in this issue as it could impact HR 210, which is pending for a hearing in the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs sub-committee of the VA Committee,” Elpidio said in the statement.

“It is hoped that with any information they come forth with from the (VA) will prove there will be a need for the passage of HR 210 which will recognize all who have proof they served and will allow use of documents from the Philippine Military as evidence of that service,” he added.

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