Thursday, September 30, 2010
LAWYER SEES TOUGH SLOG FOR FILVETS SUIT
Lawyer Arnedo Valera concedes they face a tough, uphill fight to win additional benefits for thousands of Filipino World War II veterans.
He’s scheduled to be in San Francisco next week, Oct. 8, to file before the District Court of Northern California the first of three suits against the United States government on behalf of Filipino WWII veterans.
Similar suits will be filed before the Eastern District Court of Virginia and the Seattle District Court in Washington.
“Mabigat ang laban,” he told us today.
Some 20 aging Filipino World War II veterans and widows of deceased veterans are signatories in the suit to be filed in San Francisco.
They are seeking a writ of mandamus with declaratory relief on behalf of not only the petitioners, but also thousands of WWII veterans in the US and Philippines.
Valera explained the suits aim to compel the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) to accept “secondary evidence” so more Filipino veterans can avail of the lump sum payment; question the validity of paying different amounts to veterans living in the US and the Philippines; declare the right of widows to collect the benefits of deceased veterans; and direct the US government to provide the same benefits to Filipino World War II veterans that’s already given to their American counterparts - in other words, full equity.
The law establishing the one-time $198 million Philippine Veterans Equity Compensation Fund (aka lump sum payment) reckoned there were only 18,000 surviving veterans in the US and Philippines.
It provided for a single payment of $15,000 for WWII veterans living in the US, and $9,000 for those in the Philippines.
But more than 40,000 applied for the lump sum.
Over 8,000 applications were rejected outright. About half of them reportedly because they were not in the official US Army roster, the so-called Missouri List.
The bill’s language also excluded widows and other survivors of deceased veterans who would otherwise be eligible for the lump sum.
Valera said they are optimistic about compelling the DVA to accept pieces of evidence other than the Missouri List to prove a veteran really served with US forces during World War II.
He cited precedents – cases he handled where some Filipino veterans were denied DVA benefits even though they earned American citizenship because of their veterans’ credentials.
It’s puzzling but Valera insists such mix-ups happen.
That could be in part because the Missouri List is a reconstructed list; most of the records of Filipino WWII veterans were destroyed by a fire in the St. Louis repository.
Valera said the DVA’s reliance on the Missouri List forecloses the rights of Filipino veterans.
He explained the legal offensive will complement efforts to win full equity for Filipino veterans in the US Congress.
It’s not as if full equity or recognizing the rights of war widows weren’t discussed and debated in the 63-year fight - at times with extreme passions by opposing camps in the House and Senate - that eventually led to the passage of the equity compensation fund.
They were opposed by Republicans and even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress that was as far Filipino WWII veterans could get.
Fil-Am activists from Washington DC to Nevada to California and Hawaii toiled and poured everything for our aging “manongs” but in the end, they had to contend with the realities of how US politics and lawmaking works.
Now Valera is echoing the clamor for full equity. So the work begins anew. Nothing is lost in the attempt.
We are reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s words that “There will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”