There’s no doubt about Romeo Barreras’ service to the country. After he came to the United States from the Philippines, he was drafted into the Marine Corps in 1951.
He has the paperwork to show it, and he still wears his dress green Marine uniform with the red-and-black buck sergeant chevrons.
A Purple Heart dangles below his lapel. The medal was awarded for a leg wound he suffered during the Korean War when a tank shell exploded at Won Son in 1953.
What the government doesn’t recognize is Barreras’ World War II service in the Philippines as a soldier in a U.S. armed forces guerrilla warfare squad. He was in one of the many units that conducted guerrilla raids in support of U.S. military operations. Some Philippine guerrillas later became U.S. Army infantry scouts.
On Tuesday, at a seafood market off Maryland Parkway that is popular with Las Vegas’ Philippine community, Barreras, 82, joined two other Philippine-Americans in signing a petition to remove red tape in the Department of Veterans Affairs policy that precludes them from up to $15,000 in benefits promised under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
"It’s a double wham-o that I don’t get my Philippine service compensation," said Barreras, a medical technician from Los Angeles who moved to Las Vegas in 2003 to retire. "What I don’t understand is I’ve got all the papers."
His discharge papers from the Philippines show that he served in the 15th Infantry in 1945.
Barreras is one of 250,000 to 400,000 Filipinos who served with the U.S. military during World War II. The 2009 act provides payments of $9,000 and $15,000, respectively, to non-U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens who served, or their surviving spouses. Through March, the VA had rejected 42 percent of all claims by Philippine-American veterans, roughly 24,000 claims.
More than 500 shoppers at the market had signed the petition by noon Tuesday. They included 87-year-old Algusto Oppus, a combat military policeman who served in the Philippines in 1945, and 89-year-old Alejandro Hisola, a scout in the Army’s 57th Infantry Regiment in the Philippines in 1942.
Like Barreras, claims and appeals by Oppus and Hisola have been denied by the VA because rosters from their units from the Philippine government, which document their service, aren’t recognized by the VA’s Manila office or the VA’s National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
The petition calls for President Barack Obama, who signed the 2009 act, to issue an executive order to compel the VA to accept rosters and other "authenticated documents from the Philippine government or the military" that prove they served.
"We ask for an emergency order (due) to the fact many of these elderly men and (women) are dying weekly fighting to be paid and are not recognized as veterans after they served the United States of America under current VA policy," the petition reads.
Oppus’ daughter, Josephine, said her father’s claim has been denied three times after a hearing at the local VA office and in appeals that followed.
Algusto Oppus said he felt the VA let him down because he needed the $15,000 one-time payment to go to the Philippines for his daughter-in-law’s funeral.
A VA spokesman in Las Vegas, David Martinez, had no comment on any of the Philippine-American veterans’ claims cases.
Luke Perry, community outreach director for the Filipino-American Veterans of Nevada, said his father-in-law in the Philippines, Edilberto Briones, 93, qualifies for a $9,000 payment, but his claim has been denied twice by the VA though his discharge papers acknowledge his service "to the United States of America."
"It’s very clear," he said.
Perry said he pressed the VA’s Manila office to no avail to accept the papers and provide them to the National Personnel Records Center to support Briones’ claim.
"All I got was a signed document that I could look at my father-in-law’s papers," Perry said.
He said he is trying to arrange a meeting with Obama when the president visits Las Vegas this month.
"This money is coming from stimulus funds under the Recovery Act," Perry noted.
"I don’t think he’s going to be happy to hear there’s been 24,000 denials by the VA in the U.S. and the Philippines."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.