Unfinished mission of Filipino World War II veterans
On May 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sent notification that the 2011 veterans lawsuit of De Fernandez et al. vs Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is finally submitted for their decision.
In this case, the issue to be decided is jurisdiction and the constitutionality of VA’s process for qualifying veterans to the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC).
Romeo de Fernandez is the named plaintiff together with other veterans. He is a 96-year-old Filipino and a naturalized US citizen who is anxiously waiting for recognition as a US World War II veteran.
During the infamous Bataan Death March, he walked with thousands of other Filipinos and Americans suffering the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial Army.
As a war veteran, De Fernandez served as commander of the American Legion, was awarded the American Defense Service Medal with one bronze star, the Asiatic Pacific Theatre Medal with one bronze star, the Distinguished Unit Badge with two oak leaf clusters, the Philippine Defense Ribbon with one bronze star and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one bronze star.
He is also receiving veteran’s compensation for his service-connected disability from the VA. As a war veteran, he took advantage of becoming a US citizen after proving his service under the US Armed Forces in the Far East.
Romeo immigrated to the United States in 1994 but decided to retire in the Philippines in 2012 because of his health.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama passed the FVEC, thousands of Filipino veterans benefitted from the one-time compensation of $15,000 for US citizens and $9,000 for non-US citizens.
The latest figures released by the VA on the number of claims are: 45,991 received; 18,000 approved; 25,027 denied and 4,557 on appeal.
Note that because of the process of qualifying veterans, there were more denials than approvals of claims. De Fernandez is one of those who was denied FVEC benefits based on the fact that his name is not on the National Personnel Record Center’s list of veterans. He filed this lawsuit against the VA.
Due to his age, De Fernandez’s health is steadily deteriorating. A few weeks back I decided to visit him in his home in Dagupan. My goal was to give him the news about an impending decision on his case.
Traveling from San Francisco, California, to Dagupan to visit him brought mixed feelings of joy and fear, as I did not know what to expect.
When we reached his place, he was lying in a hospital bed and could hardly open his eyes. However, he managed to whisper to me a question about his case. He asked in a feeble voice, “Ano pa ba ang dapat kong gawin? (What else must I do?)” Stunned with nothing sensible to say, I said, “Just wait Mr. De Fernandez.”
Together with thousand of veterans, De Fernandez spent most of his lifetime proving himself as a veteran but to no avail.
This lawsuit is his last ditch effort to uphold his and that of his colleagues’ dignity.
It represents the unfinished mission left for our Filipino war veterans, to fight for their rightful recognition.
(The author may be reached at [email protected] , or at 1-888-930-0808 in the US or  721-1963 in the Philippines or visit her website at www.tancinco.com)
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