WASHINGTON – Congressman Joe Heck held his first official hearing as House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman.
The hearing, entitled “Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund: Examining the Department of Defense and Interagency Process for Verifying Eligibility,” provided Rep. Heck and a bipartisan group of subcommittee members the opportunity to question witnesses from the Department of the Army, Department of Veterans Affairs, and National Archives and Records Administration, the main agencies with jurisdiction over the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Heck talked about the heroic service of Filipino soldiers in World War II and described the plight of The Mighty Five, a group of Filipino-American World War II veterans who reside in Las Vegas and have been denied full recognition of their service.
Congressman Heck has worked on the recognition of Filipino-American veterans since coming to Congress in 2011. He has twice introduced legislation to “direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to accept certain documents as proof of service in determining the eligibility of an individual to receive amounts from the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund.”
On February 18, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946 into law. This law denied Filipino World War II veterans, who served before July 1, 1946, the benefits promised to them five years prior by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. These veterans fought under the direction of U.S. commanders for several years as the conflict against Imperial Japan ensued in the Pacific theater, only to be eventually denied compensation. In 2009, Congress finally acknowledged the dedicated service of these veterans when it established the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. However, since that time, thousands of Filipino-American veterans have had their claims denied on the grounds that they did not possess proper documentation.
Congressman Joe Heck represents Nevada’s Third Congressional District in the House of Representatives. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Hearing on WWII Fil-Am vets ‘GOP grandstanding’
Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV) National Coordinator Arturo Garcia, however, summed up the organization’s stand on the subcommittee hearing on June 26 at the lower house of the US Congress.
Garcia said, “As we understand, this hearing it is not about legislation. It is to investigate what is going wrong with the current program and why so many have been denied and have filed complaints and appeals. Thus JFAV believes it is just another GOP grandstanding in this coming 2014 mid-terms election and are just pursuing the case of 25,000 denied Filipino World War II Veterans claims against the DVA to further their political ends.”
Garcia said, “We must remember that the GOP-controlled House of Representatives consistently promised to give Filipino World War II veterans a hearing, but never gave them any benefits since 2011.”
He said that some independent analysts on veteran issues have affirmed that this is not a legislative hearing. “It is an investigation and audit hearing committee looking into issues like funds spent, what is wrong and why our vets are not being recognized in this current program by this administration.”
Garcia said, “We need to hear on record why these agencies are not being open and fair and why we are told Filipinos are corrupt or enemy sympathizers as some of the excuses to deny them the benefits they have earned. Enough is enough! Hearings or no hearings at all, we are tired of lip-service from President Obama and the Congress. We are sick and tired of hearing things like this as excuses for not honoring these veterans who served the United States Army and put their lives on the line.”
According to news reports, Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans who also testified before the House committee, said that “while the US Congress appropriated $265 million for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) in 2009 – some 4,552 Filipino veterans were still denied compensation of $15,000 each.”
The report also said that Lachica cited problems surrounding the Filipino Veteran eligibility determination process: The VA Secretary relied solely on the National Personnel Record Center in Missouri as proof of their service, but that those archives are incomplete; The US Army failed to grant the Filipino vets their benefits even if their names are found on recognized rosters of guerrillas.
Lachica testified that there is “widespread fraud” reported in the secret US Army Recognition Program of Philippine Guerrillas, a US Army report declassified in 1988 that “revoked almost 40,000 recognized guerrillas who were earlier recognized,” the report said.