WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, issued a statement today regarding legislation to provide recognition to Filipino World War II veterans who served under U.S. military command. Akaka vowed to renew his advocacy in the new Congress next year after efforts to bring the legislation to final passage last week was obstructed in the Senate.
Chairman Akaka said: "The record is clear on the Filipino veterans of World War II. They are not foreigners who fought for a foreign government. They were citizens of the Philippines - then a U.S. possession - who fought under the command of the U.S. military. After World War II, General Omar Bradley and the U.S. government recognized them as U.S. veterans. Tragically, less than a year after they helped us win the war, they lost their veteran status by an Act of Congress. This was a shameful act against our brothers in arms - who fought side-by-side with America's greatest generation and risked their lives to rescue American prisoners of war."
"While Congress voted to establish a nearly $200 million Filipino Veterans Equity fund this year, opponents of Filipino veterans equity successfully blocked the legislation required to provide veteran status and compensation to the few remaining Filipino veterans of World War II. We have been deterred, but we are not defeated. I intend to return to this issue in the next Congress. The march toward equity is not over."
Akaka is the sponsor of S. 1315, the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, an omnibus veterans' benefits bill which contained provisions to provide Filipino World War II veterans who served under U.S. military command with recognition as veterans, a limited pension, and increased compensation for their twilight years. These provisions were adapted from S. 57, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act, introduced by U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), Hawaii's senior Senator. Akaka led a successful floor fight for S. 1315 in the Senate, defeating an amendment to remove the Filipino veterans language and securing Senate passage by a vote of 96 to 1. However, the Filipino veterans' provisions were stripped in the House of Representatives, and Akaka's efforts to negotiate a final version of the bill were blocked when the bill was returned to the Senate.
Chairman Akaka's full statement follows:
The record is clear on the Filipino veterans of World War II. They are not foreigners who fought for a foreign government. They were citizens of the Philippines - then a U.S. possession - who President Franklin D. Roosevelt inducted to fight under the command of the U.S. military. After World War II, General Omar Bradley and the U.S. government recognized them as U.S. veterans. Tragically, less than a year after they helped us win the war, they lost their veteran status by an Act of Congress. This was a shameful act against our brothers in arms - who fought side-by-side with America's greatest generation and risked their lives to rescue American prisoners of war.
In this Congress, we sought to right what an earlier Congress has done wrong by offering three separate bills that would move toward equity for Filipino veterans. The first was S. 1315, the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, which would have recognized Filipino World War II veterans and provided a limited pension, and increased compensation, for their twilight years. This bill, which was adapted from S. 57, the Filipino Veterans Equity Act, introduced by my friend and colleague, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, was approved by the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs and passed the Senate, despite obstruction by a small group of Senators. Unfortunately, when S. 1315 returned to the Senate with Congressional adjournment approaching, the provisions for Filipino veterans had been removed.
In an effort to pass something during this Congress, my friend and counterpart on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Chairman Bob Filner pushed a second option: H.R. 6897, a bill to provide a one-time payment to Filipino veterans - less than what S. 1315 would have provided, but more than nothing. At the same time, a third bill moved forward, to provide money for Filipino veterans through the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government - providing $198 million for a Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund, which would be established by Chairman Filner's legislation.
With time running out, I sought to convene a conference to negotiate S. 1315. This would have allowed representatives from both chambers and both parties to meet and debate that bill. Unfortunately, members of the Senate blocked my efforts to convene a conference. Overcoming their hold would have required more floor time than we had, and kept the Senate from considering other issues, such as the economic crisis that is confronting our nation. Effectively, my colleagues stopped any chance of the Congress passing S. 1315 with Filipino veterans equity language included, for the rest of this Congress. Chairman Filner's lump-sum payment bill was also blocked. For the opponents of these bills, the response seems to be to continue to ignore the veterans who have been denied benefits and recognition for over sixty-years. That is not a responsible or appropriate response.
As I mentioned before, this Congress has worked to move Filipino veterans equity forward by three means: a pension, compensation and recognition included in S. 1315; a one-time, lump-sum payment; and by establishing a Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund through the appropriations bill. Opponents have effectively blocked our first two efforts, but I am pleased that the third approach succeeded. While there is still a need for legislation to allow those funds to be paid to Filipino veterans and $198 million is not enough to provide the limited pension and compensation that would have come from S. 1315, this was a significant step forward. In the long march toward equity, we have come closer than ever.
I commend the Filipino advocates for their support, and thank them for their hard work. Democrats, Republicans and independents came together in support of this cause. Filipino veterans who are now grandparents came together with their grandchildren's generation for this cause. World War II veterans who served with Filipino veterans were joined by other men and women across the nation to support this cause. It has been a long march, and it is not yet over. But if we are ever to secure equity for those who served with us in the darkest days of World War II, we must continue this struggle.
As this Congress ends, I pledge my commitment to continue to work with and for the World War II Filipino veterans in the next Congress. I will continue to fight for final enactment of legislation which not only compensates them, but also recognizes their true status as U.S. veterans. The Senate-passed version of S. 1315 would have done this. I believe that any legislation which does not address the 1946 Rescission Act so as to recognize them for their service is unacceptable. As long as they fight for their recognition, I will fight for it as well.
I was just a boy when I watched, from the roof of my high school dormitory, as Japanese planes bombed nearby Pearl Harbor. The very next day, Japan attacked the Philippines. Both Hawaii and the Philippines were U.S. possessions, and important strategic assets for the U.S. military. Both were attacked that December. For the duration the Second World War, both Hawaii and the Philippines would send their children to battle under the command of the U.S. military.
Today Senator Inouye and I are U.S. Senators and U.S. veterans of World War II. Our Filipino counterparts fought in the same war that we did, under the same command. Having helped us win the war only to lose their benefits, they did without the assistance Senator Inouye and I enjoyed. Now, all of the remaining Filipino veterans are in their twilight years. Too many of them are spending their golden years in pain and in poverty, in Hawaii, the mainland, and the Philippines.
We would not leave our fellow soldiers behind on the battlefield. We will not leave behind the Filipino veterans of fellow World War II, who fought side-by-side with troops from across the U.S. We will continue our fight into the next Congress. This march toward equity is not over.