Heller to get endorsement of Filipino-American veterans group

Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller on Saturday will be endorsed by a Filipino-American veterans group that is working to influence Nevada's growing Asian population in the Nov. 6 election, his campaign said Wednesday.

The endorsement is a blow to U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., the seven-term congresswoman who is challenging Heller and who considers herself one of the strongest political advocates for veterans in the state.

The Filipino-American Families of America in Politics, a new political action committee, will endorse Heller on Saturday afternoon at Ray's Asian Cuisine, a Filipino-owned Las Vegas restaurant.

Luke Perry, vice chairman of the organization, said Filipinos are endorsing Heller and several other Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, because Democrats and President Barack Obama haven't done enough to compensate Filipino veterans of World War II.

"The president has been here seven times (this year) and never addressed this issue," Perry said, adding that he saw Berkley last weekend and that he didn't offer any more help on the compensation matter.

"She didn't say one word to any of us about our veterans. No word from the Democrats on this at all. We've been working with all of them to try and get help for many years, including for a 100-year-old veteran who's now in a nursing home dying."

Filipinos make up about 4 percent of Nevada's population, about 100,000 people, and as many as 50,000 to 60,000 are of voting age, according to Perry's estimates. He said the group plans to raise money and help get out the vote for Heller, Romney and U.S. Reps. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Mark Amodei, R-Nev.

Heller introduced legislation Wednesday to help the Filipino World War II veterans. The Filipino Veterans Act would mandate that the Defense Department use historians to help document the Asian soldiers' service so they can receive military benefits as promised under legislation Obama signed in 2009.

"The United States must make every effort to ensure that Filipinos who served during World War II are properly recognized for their contributions to our nation," Heller said. "This legislation will provide the opportunity for individuals in the Filipino community to prove their service and obtain the compensation they are owed. Any individual denied veteran benefits should be allowed to have their story heard, especially those in the Filipino community. This bill will ensure that Filipinos who claim veteran status are treated with dignity and respect."

Filipino World War II veterans who are U.S. citizens were granted a one-time, $15,000 benefit under the American Recovery and Re­investment Act of 2009, the $800 billion stimulus bill which Berkley voted for and Heller opposed. Other Filipino veterans of the war still living in the Philippines could receive $9,000.

But the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied the claims of more than 24,000 Filipino veterans, including five who live in Nevada, ranging in age from 83 to 100, according to the Filipino-American organization in the state.

That is because the VA's Manila office and the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis don't recognize the guerrilla rosters and other Philippine military papers the veterans submitted for their claims.

Both Berkley and Heller have been trying to help the veterans. Berkley has co-sponsored bills since 2004 to gain compensation for the World War II-era soldiers. Heller has not co-sponsored any bills, but he voted for the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2008 in the House, as did Berkley.

On July 18, Heller sent a letter urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to establish a process for the Filipinos who fought alongside Americans in World War II and have documentation to work with military historians to verify them so they can get benefits for their service. Heller's bill would require Pentagon officials to document the service.

Heck has spoken twice on the House floor about the Filipino World War II veterans.

Berkley campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa said the congresswoman has supported Filipino veterans.

"While Senator Heller is the only candidate in this race who voted against extending compensation for WWII Filipino veterans, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley has been one of their strongest advocates - not only co-sponsoring the Filipino Veterans Equity Act, but voting for legislation providing compensation for thousands of Filipino veterans who served America bravely," Hinojosa said in a statement reacting to the endorsement.

Some Filipino supporters of Berkley were unhappy with the endorsement from the new political action committee, saying Perry and other activists for World War II veterans should not be getting involved in politics.

"We're not supposed to be endorsing," said Bernie Benito, a member of a nonpartisan educational group of Filipino-American veterans that has been working on the issue for years. "It's not fair to the veterans group."

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.