There are many legitimate veterans organizations, and their reasons for being often overlap. They all aim to help veterans in many different ways, but their general focus is to gain earned benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the areas of compensation, medical treatment and education.
But there is one group that has virtually no overlap when it comes to seeking benefits — the Filipino-American Veterans & Families of America, which is specifically active in seeking compensation for Philippine guerrillas who fought alongside American troops in World War II. Other veterans organizations have not taken on this cause.
Locally, Ceasar Elpidio and Luke Perry have been leading the charge for Congress to allow benefits to a select group of Filipino veterans who have been denied benefits because of what Washington says is a lack of proper certification that they served in the war.
Elpidio, of Filipino heritage and a veteran commander of the U.S. Navy medical corps who served during the Vietnam era and during Desert Storm, and Perry, a Caucasian married to a Filipino woman, formed a local organization that has evolved into the Filipino-American Veterans & Families of America.
Elpidio said, “We started it as a local Nevada group but dropped the original Nevada name. We had other Filipino groups in the U.S. join us, from California and Washington, D.C.”
He added that groups from several other states are talking with his organization, and he expects them to link up in the coming months. “So when we go in front of Congress, we won’t be a bunch of small groups running around.”
Elpidio said the local group has about 200 members, but there is a core of about 30 who are very active. Veterans make up about half, and the others are family — widows, sons and daughters.
“When members die, their surviving family sticks with us,” he said.
Perry said that while many Filipino guerrillas in 2009 were granted benefits and received a lump sum of compensation as well as access to educational and medical benefits, there are many others who were denied. The two men have been helping many of those others to file appeals.
And while the U.S. Army has only recently allowed female soldiers to officially face combat, that’s nothing new to many Filipino women who served in WWII. Elpidio said, “We have one lady who has never filed (for benefits), but she was involved in feeding and intelligence back and forth between guerrillas. That’s the kind of thing women were doing. There are many other women who were also involved.” He said the VA reports there are 10,000 Filipino men and women in the U.S. and 14,000 in the Philippines whose claims have been denied.
In April 2010 his local group was formed. “A lot veterans wanted help filling out a one-page form,” Elpidio said. “They asked me for help; that’s how this group started.
“I was a volunteer advocate. When we perceived that it would take a little bit more, we started to organize. It was a only a one-page form. You had questions on there, but you’re dealing with 100-year-old guys who can hardly see, and they did not understand these kinds of things. They then got letters of denials. Then they had to appeal like regular veterans. (Washington) told them they had to fill out this one form, and then they dragged them through the appeals forms. The process was not supposed to be like this.”
Perry is married to a Filipino woman whose father was a guerrilla fighter and held the rank of captain. Perry has sometimes come up against another type of resistance from others because he is not of Filipino descent. He bristles at the mention of it. “I’m not gonna deal with that,” he said. “I have the right to represent my father-in-law. Those other people are of no concern to me. That’s why I am involved.”
Elpidio said, “I think Luke is more Filipino than any other Filipino. He is fighting hard in this movement.”
Elpidio said his father served in the guerrilla forces, and his grandfather endured torture by the Japanese military.
The major problem that the veterans are facing is that a system that Perry said has been set up by the Army “requires that they won’t accept Philippine documents” attesting to who served in WWII. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced a bill last year to overcome that requirement, but Perry said it was too late in the year to be acted upon. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., recently introduced a similar bill that Perry said “cleans up the language” so that official Philippine paperwork can be accepted as documentation by the U.S.
Other elected officials from other states are also supporting the legislation, Elpidio said. He added that Heller told him that he had met with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who reportedly said he “wanted the issue resolved.” A Heck spokesman said the congressman’s bill would “direct the secretary of veterans affairs to accept certain documents as proof of service in determining the eligibility of an individual to receive amounts from the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.”
A bright spot in the battle for recognition recently was brought to the surface by a D.C.-based group called American Coalition for Filipino Veterans. They were able to obtain a copy of a declassified formerly confidential Army document consisting of hundreds of pages titled “U.S. Army Recognition Program of Philippine Guerrillas.” It spells out details of WWII campaigns, the development of the guerrilla movement, development of guerrilla recognition, policies, rosters, unit missions and casualty statistics, among other topics.
Concerning release of the document, which he has had bound into book form, Elpidio said, “Pressure was brought about, and someone in the Army realized it would have to be out ... they would have to deal with it. It spells out who did what. We didn’t (previously) know about it.”
The pages add credence to many of the local claimants’ stories, backing up in print what they have been saying all along about their service and the combat battles that were fought. Perry said, “The key point is, this is an official U.S. Army document, chapter by chapter, it has every commander’s name that connects up to documents we have on unrecognized (individuals) in Las Vegas. It’s a crying shame that this wasn’t available earlier. The book offers authorized proof that the men have served. There is no way that these men can make up these stories ... those stories are all in this book.”
Many of the book’s contents match up with documents Perry’s father-in-law, Ediberto U. Briones Sr., has at home. A guerrilla captain and a unit historian, Briones still has many of the original documents he typed out during the war on an old Remington-Rand portable typewriter, Perry said. With the typed history and the verbal recollections that have been and will continue to be submitted on appeal, “The Army book will become the bible for all these appeals,” Perry said.
Journalist and author Chuck N. Baker is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is the managing editor and the host of the “Veterans Reporter Radio Show” on KLAV (1230 AM) from 8-9 p.m. Thursdays and the “Veterans Reporter News” at 6:30 a.m. Fridays on VEGAStv KTUD-Cable 14.