WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, responded today to comments made by the Committee's Ranking Minority Member, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) regarding provisions in S. 1315 that would provide equity to Filipino veterans who served under U.S. command during WWII.
The American Coalition for Filipino Veterans (ACFV) posted a video of Senator Burr's comments on YouTube in which Burr expresses his willingness to negotiate a limited pension for Filipino World War II veterans. According to ACFV, Burr's comments came in response to a question from 91-year-old WWII veteran Celestina Almeda, who travelled to attend the public event at Davidson College in North Carolina on October 9.
Akaka responded directly to Burr by letter today, stating: "I am eager to work with you and hear what level of pension and compensation you would be willing to support. The veterans waiting for passage of the equity provisions in S. 1315 are not someone else's veterans - they are our veterans. I am willing to negotiate the extent of those benefits with you if you are prepared to recognize them as U.S. veterans." Akaka encouraged immediate discussions in hopes of reaching an agreement before the Senate reconvenes as expected following the November elections.
S. 1315 is the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, an omnibus veterans' benefits bill that includes provisions providing recognition and benefits for Filipino veterans of World War II who served under U.S. military command. S. 1315 passed the Senate by a vote of 96-1, and an amended version later passed the House. Chairman Akaka's motion for a conference between the House and Senate on a final version of the bill was then objected to by Senator Burr.
Senator Akaka's full letter is copied below:
October 20, 2008
The Honorable Richard Burr
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Burr:
My dear friend, I recently received an inquiry from a reporter regarding comments that you made to Filipino veterans at a public event at Davidson College on October 9, 2008. According to the reporter, the comments were recorded and are now appearing on YouTube.com.
While I believe it was unintentional, some of your comments may have created some confusion in the Filipino veterans' community. However, of more importance to me is the fact that, during your comments, you expressed a willingness to work together and quickly pass Filipino veterans equity legislation in the next Congress, noting that you would support a more limited version of the bill. I am eager to work with you and hear what level of pension and compensation you would be willing to support.
The veterans waiting for passage of the equity provisions in S. 1315 are not someone else's veterans - they are our veterans. As you know, S. 1315 recognizes veterans who were inducted into service by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when the Philippines was a U.S. possession and who served under U.S. military command. In light of their over 60 year history of being denied their rightful status, S. 1315 would recognize the service these brave warriors provided and, based on that service, provide them with a limited pension and increased compensation. I am willing to negotiate the extent of those benefits with you if you are prepared to recognize them as U.S. veterans.
If we can agree on a compromise on the benefits level, there is no need to wait until next year. Congress is expected to reconvene after the November elections, and this presents an opportunity for us to pass a version of the bill on which we can agree. We should begin these discussions immediately. I will await your response.
I look forward to a productive working relationship on this issue.
Daniel K. Akaka
The YouTube video referenced above can be found at the following web address: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNNWTtvQi2Q
ACFE's YouTube page can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/user/usfilvets