WASHINGTON — A bill being rewritten in Congress would reopen federal compensation for Filipinos who fought alongside U.S. soldiers on the Pacific front during World War II.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he is reworking legislation he had previously sponsored. The new version would give surviving Filipino veterans who were denied payments under an expired program one year to reapply, and would change the criteria to qualify for benefits.
Surviving veterans and their families have protested that a large number of deserving fighters were denied compensation for a variety of reasons. Some were not correctly identified in rosters compiled by the Army during and after the war, while others might have fallen victim to post-war military politics.
Of 42,755 claims, payments were granted in 18,929 cases.
“We all want the system to be fair,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who sits on the House veterans subcommittee that examined the program on Thursday. She said she was particularly concerned about veterans in their 90s being pulled through lengthy appeals.
The compensation program authorized $15,000 to eligible Filipino veterans who are now U.S. citizens and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines. Some $56.4 million remains unspent, and Heck argued it should be distributed to veterans who can at least produce an AGO-Form 23, which was issued by the government of the Philippines in 1948 to certify military service.
“If they have a document that was contemporaneously certified in 1948, I don’t think that a 95- to -98-year-old Filipino veteran is going to be coming in with a forgery,” Heck said.
In Southern Nevada, the Filipino-American community has rallied behind the few World War II veterans still living who they say have not received proper recognition for their service.
Heck floated his proposal at the hearing. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., also has a bill pending that would direct the military to re-examine the process for determining eligibility.
“Do you think it would be unreasonable to believe that in 1948 post-war Philippines there could possibly be somebody who had qualified service who didn’t make it on the list?” Heck asked witnesses from Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Army and the National Personnel Records Center.
Heck got pushback from Army Brig. Gen. David K. “Mac” MacEwan who said the eligibility process was adequate and sound. To change it now, “I’m not so sure that is fair overall,” he said.
The hearing took place in one of the final days of the congressional session. Debate is expected to continue into the new session that starts in January.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.