Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Madam President, I wish to update our colleagues on an important issue that the Veterans' Affairs Committee is dealing with; namely, providing long overdue recognition to all those veterans of the Philippines Armed Forces who served under U.S. command during the Second World War.
Recently, the Veterans' Affairs Committee, which I am privileged to chair, held a hearing on S. 57, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007. This important legislation, introduced by my good friend and senior Senator, Mr. Inouye, would end more than 50 years of inequality for Filipino veterans who have served our country, and it has my strong support. During our hearing, the committee received testimony from Filipino veterans who spoke of their service under U.S. military command and their difficulties with a VA system that doesn't recognize them as veterans.
Until 1946, the Philippines was not completely independent from the United States. When America entered the Second World War, the Filipino military was a part of the U.S. Armed Forces, under the command of the U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East. All military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines were ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve under the command of the U.S. military, and they served bravely, fighting for our country and their freedom.
In 1946, Congress limited veterans' benefits to only a portion of Filipinos who served in World War II. While some of the inequity has been corrected in recent years, this injustice still remains. Filipino veterans of the U.S. military do not have equal access to the health care and benefits they have earned through service. S. 57 would end the inequity and give Filipino veterans who fought under the command of U.S. military the benefits and care they earned.
Some who oppose S. 57 say we cannot afford it. While I, too, am concerned about costs, I am committed to finding offsets to cover the expense. After all, fiscal responsibility is not the only kind of responsibility there is. Our country has a deeper responsibility to the men and women who have served in our military, whether they were born in America or the Philippines . We need a solution that is both morally responsible to Filipino veterans and fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars.
Many of the brothers-in-arms of those who testified at our hearing have since passed away, never having been recognized by the United States for their service. I find that shameful. Following the hearing, I asked myself how we could stray from our moral commitment to these men for over half a century and then argue that it is too expensive to give those who are left the benefits they have earned.
With that in mind, let us look to fulfill both responsibilities, rather than neglecting the Filipino veterans who remain with us today. We have gone down that path for over half of a century, denying them care and benefits. Today we find many Filipino veterans living their twilight years in the pain of poverty, without access to the relief available to other veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Allowing this to go on without searching vigorously for a realistic solution is not the responsible response. These veterans deserve better.
April 13, 2007