Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) today was joined by a group of Filipino veterans from California to demand full benefits for their service to our nation.

During World War II, about 250,000 Filipinos volunteered to fight alongside U.S. troops. As citizens of a commonwealth of the United States before and during the war, Filipinos were legally American nationals. With American nationality, they were promised all the benefits afforded to those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. But in 1946, Congress stripped many Filipinos of the benefits that had been promised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Of the 66 countries allied with the United States during World War II, only Filipinos were denied benefits.

Speier has introduced the Filipino Veterans Fairness Act of 2011, legislation which would make Filipino veterans fully eligible for benefits similar to those received by all U.S. veterans.  It eliminates the distinction between the Regular or "Old" Philippine Scouts and the other three groups of veterans—Commonwealth Army of the Philippines, Recognized Guerrilla Forces, and New Philippine Scouts. Widows and children of Filipino veterans would be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation just like any other veteran.

“A promise made must be a promise kept,” Speier said. “I am frankly embarrassed that we are still having this debate more than a half-century after Filipino veterans helped us win World War II. But we must persevere. I will not rest until these heroes receive the benefits they deserve.”

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contained a provision that provided a lump sum payment of $15,000 for Filipino veterans who are now U.S. citizens and $9,000 for non-citizens.  But there have been problems with the implementation of this payment program. To be eligible, a veteran has to be on the so called “Missouri List,” an Army roster of eligible veterans.  The Missouri List is incomplete. A 1973 fire destroyed 80 percent of the records for Army personnel from 1912 to 1960. As a result, over 17,000 Filipino veterans have had their claims denied. The Filipino Veterans Fairness Act directs the VA to take into account alternative military documentation to determine eligibility.

“The Recovery Act payments were a start, but our nation must bestow the full status it promised these veterans more than 65 years ago,” Speier concluded. “Their average age is 85. Only 15,000 are still alive today. We need to act now.”