CHICAGO (JGL) – Even before two Filipino World War II veterans and a son of a Filipino WW II veteran could testify against the U.S. Army for denying their recognition and benefits before the hearing at the House U.S. Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Tuesday (June 24) in Washington, D.C., U.S. Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a U.S. Iraq War veteran, who lost both legs in combat, stole the thunder by castigating the “U.S. Army and the U.S. (government) for having racist tendencies because their decisions (during the war) have not necessarily been based on actual facts on how these men served.”
Duckworth, a Thai-American, cited the case of the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a Japanese-American, whose “(Congressional) medal of honor was reduced to silver star simply because of his race. He is not alone.
“Asian Americans have seen them (racisms) time and time again. I’ve seen it in Iraq and in many instances in my congressional service when veterans were coming forward, who wanted to get combat action badge but were denied because they have no record.
The junior Democrat Congresswoman from the 8th District of Illinois recalled when two of her companions tried to get combat action badge, they were denied because “they have no proof.” She said she had to “intervene because they were in the aircraft (Blackhawk helicopter) with me when we were blown up.”
Duckworth, one of the members of the Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee chaired by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3), was deployed in Iraq in 2004 as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard becoming one of the first Army women to fly in combat.
Duckworth was on a mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom when her helicopter was hit by a RPG (rocket propelled grenade). She lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in an explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries.
“I am absolutely astounded. These (Filipino World War veterans) men are dying. These men did not wait when the U.S. asked for help. They stepped forward immediately and volunteered to serve. Why do we make them wait for 70 years?” Congresswoman Duckworth asked the congressional hearing that discussed the oversight on the “Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (FVEC): Examining the Department of Defense and Interagency Process for Verifying Eligibility.”
23K PLUS DENIED
The FVECF granted $15,000 lump sum pay for Filipino veterans, who are U.S. citizens and $9,000 one-time grant for non-U.S. citizen Filipino veterans under the 2009 Stimulus bill signed by President Obama. But more than 23,000 claimants were denied because their names were not found in the roster of the National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.
“There is $50-M (balance) (out of the original budget of $198-M) in the account. And we are quibbling for less than 200 men denied on appeal. We are waiting for them to die, so it goes away. It will only cost $1.7-M if they are approved. It is unconscionable.”
She said, “Let’s not talk about how great the U.S. Army’s record keeping is,” referring to Brig. Gen. David K. MacEwen of the 59th Adjutant General of the U.S. Army, Department of the Army, who told the hearing that the U.S. Army was just following instructions from Gen. Douglas MacArthur. MacEwen said, “There were thousand and thousands fighting alongside us or for their own country but were not eligible (for benefits) under MacArthur.”
“Don’t take as best as army’s does.” the former assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs said, “We understand what happens in war time situation. It‘s ridiculous that we don’t just approve this. Give these men their compensation and audit them. We are punishing the majority of folks because we think they are cheaters. I’m sure there are cheaters. But we should go after cheaters thru audit process. I don’t understand why we don’t approve it. (We should) thank them for their great service for the U.S. I’m sure the Americans whose lives they saved would want that to happen.”
Even Scott Levins, Director of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) of the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) did not speak kindly either of the U.S. Army. He said there were “deliberate efforts” on the part of the Army to “exclude two companies from the roster from official recognition. They were deliberate not oversight in the late 40’s and 50’s.”
While there were 23,000 Filipino veterans who were denied benefits under the Stimulus bill, “a few thousands more than approved,” Levins said there are 19 claims re-opened; 31 on appeal at the Veterans Benefits Administration, 48 are before the Board of Veterans Appeals and 16 are pending in court. At least 10% are approved on appeal.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2) said while many Filipino veterans are not residing in the Philippines, the authorities should not take it against the veterans either if there are clerical errors on their records.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA-14) for her part said the Filipino veterans issue is “more than vexing. We make mistakes. Ones we deeply regret. Telling the Filipinos that they will be treated like (U.S.) veterans and after service, rescinding (their benefits). It (the Philippines) is the only group of nationals across the world that were given that pledge and (we) reneged it. That’s pretty shameful.”
Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam-At-Large) for her part said, “I am disheartened and embarrassed from what I am learning here. From Guam, Mabuhay, most of my constituents in Guam are Filipinos.”
Bordallo suggested that if the “original claimant has died, perhaps, the claim should be given not only to the widow but to one survivor if the widow has died.” Under the Stimulus bill, only the widow can file a claim if the veteran died after filing a claim. The benefit is not available to the children or heirs. She plans to introduce legislation that will extend the period to open the benefits again since there is still money left “to find few that are left and give the benefits to the survivor to appease the Filipino people for the wrong that was done to them. They fought with us, many died and we promised but we failed them. I’m embarrassed.”
Representative Heck said the FVECF was established to provide a one-time payment to Filipino veterans as settlement for all future benefits claims based on service. To date, over 18,000 payments have been approved by the U.S. Veterans Administration.
However, some Filipino veterans have expressed concern that they were impeded from filing claims or that their claims were improperly denied.
He said, “The plight of denied Filipino veterans has been a consistent focus of mine since I first met the members of the Las Vegas Mighty Five. The Mighty Five (now down to three) fought bravely under American commanders in the Philippines and helped us win the war in the Pacific.”
LADY CONGRESSMAN LAMBASTS U.S. ARMY, U.S. GOV’T AS “RACIST” — Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8th) faulted the U.S. Army for sloppy record keeping of the service records of the Filipino World War II veterans, calling the “U.S. Army and the U.S. (government) for having racist tendencies because their decisions (during the war) have not necessarily been based on actual facts on how these men served.” An Iraq War veteran, who lost her two legs when the helicopter she was piloting was blown away, the former Assistant of Veterans Affairs made the scathing attack at the hearing of the House U.S. Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee chaired by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3). (JGL Photograb from US STREAM TV)