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Philippine-American vets enlist lawmakers’ help

A Nevada legislative committee took positive action Tuesday on a heartfelt plea to help Philippine-American veterans of World War II receive promised benefits.

The Legislative Committee on Senior Citizens, Veterans and Adults with Special Needs, chaired by state Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, decided unanimously to write President Barack Obama on behalf of Nevada’s aging Philippine-American vets. Committee members voiced their approval on a motion by state Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas.

“We have a plea for you to help us get an executive order from the president,” said Ceasar Elpidio, founder and president of the Filipino-American Veterans and Families of America-Nevada Chapter.

Joined by Luke Perry, the group’s government affairs director, Elpidio urged the committee to send letters to Obama and Nevada’s congressional delegation in hopes of obtaining an executive order that will compel the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide compensation of up to $15,000 each for 24,000 Philippine-American veterans whose claims have been denied because the VA doesn’t recognize their World War II service records. About 10,000 live in the United States and 14,000 are in the Philippines.

One of those denied is former Philippine guerrilla intelligence officer 2nd Lt. Silverio Cuaresma, of Las Vegas, whose 100th birthday is this month. He served under U.S. Army Col. Edwin Ramsey, leader of the 26th Cavalry who made the famous last horse charge in U.S. history on Jan. 16, 1942.

“It’s unusual to come to a state board to ask for a federal order. However, we need local people to win this war,” said Perry, whose father-in-law, Edilberto U. Briones Sr., was also denied compensation. A captain, he helped unload supplies for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s landing in Leyte near the end of the war.

The committee’s action came on the heels of a discussion about Nevada’s veterans courts and an offer to help expand Clark County’s program.

Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson, a justice of the peace for Las Vegas Township, said one of her goals is to apply for grants to support a special veterans court, where the caseload has grown to 100 this year.

The funding is needed “so we can get somebody to supervise and manage it. Hopefully we can get somebody in District Court to get it established.”

While the program has proved successful in Clark and Washoe counties in getting veterans with criminal records in programs to curb post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, “we could be doing a lot more. There’s no doubt about it,” she said.

Andress-Tobiasson said most of her cases in veterans court stem from domestic violence.

“They’re trained warriors. They’re trained to fight,” she said about veterans who have returned to civilian life from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas, said the committee would like to help take veterans courts to the next level, with “multiple entry points.”

According to Jim Reed and Alison Lawrence of the National Conference of State Legislatures, up to 30 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from psychological problems. That translates to 500,000 of the 2 million vets from those wars nationwide who suffer from a mental disorder or substance abuse. About 10 percent of all people in jails and prisons are veterans.

Veterans courts are aimed at keeping vets from landing in jail and getting them into programs that can help them cope with their problems.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at
krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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