Wednesday, November 17, 2010
SOME SOLONS "HURT" BY FILVETS' LAW SUITS
Some key supporters on Capitol Hill have expressed their displeasure over reports Filipino World War II veterans, spurned from receiving lump sum payments, are suing the government.
Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, appropriations committee chair and one of the chief architects of the Filipino veterans equity compensation fund was “hurt”, according to at least two Fil-Am lobbyists who met with the solon.
“He was hurt by the criticisms. That wasn’t the reaction he was expecting from the Fil-Am community after all he did to help our veterans,” explained one.
Jon Melegrito, co-chair of the National Alliance for Filipino Veterans Equity (NAFVE), declined to discuss the reported falling-out with Inouye but admitted they too were “disappointed” by the lawsuit that challenged key provisions of the Filipino veterans equity compensation bill approved with the stimulus bill in 2009.
Actually, two separate lawsuits were filed last month in California on behalf of veterans whose applications for the lump sum were rejected -- many because their names were not in the roster at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. – the so-called Missouri List.
More than 2,800 lump sum claims were still pending as of Oct. 1, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
A total of 21,417 applications were rejected. The DVA does not give a breakdown of reasons for the applications they turned down.
Over $207 million has been paid out to Filipino veterans.
Both suits asked the federal courts in California to compel the DVA to accept proof other than the Missouri List.
That was as far San Francisco-based lawyer Lou Tancinco’s suit went.
Romeo Fernandez, 91, survived the Death March and was imprisoned at the Camp O’Donnell concentration camp in Tarlac.
He was decorated with the American Defense Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, among others. He won US citizenship partly because of his wartime exploits but his application was rejected because he wasn’t in the Missouri List.
CONGRESS VS COURTS, LOBBYISTS VS LAWYERS
The 2nd law suit filed on behalf of 27 plaintiffs also sought the inclusion of veterans’ widows to receive the lump sum payments, invalidate the quit claim contained in the equity compensation bill, and asked that veterans living in the Philippine get the same amount as their comrades in the US ($9,000 vs $15,000).
Lawyer Arnedo Valera, one of the lawyers behind the 2nd law suit, doesn’t believe the court proceedings are adversarial to what has already been won or may still be won in Congress.
“They should look at the courts as an avenue to secure the rights of our veterans,” he urged.
Melegrito told the Manila Mail it was “unfair” because it created the “assumption that nothing good can come out of Congress” and “does not appreciate what Senators Inouye or (Daniel) Akaka or Congressmen (Bob) Filner or (Mike) Honda worked for.”
He said some of the people behind the law suits weren't involved with lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and were unfamiliar with the peculiar dynamics of lawmaking, where compromise is often the norm.
But Valera stressed they are united by the desire to give aging veterans the justice and recognition they deserve even if they choose to take different paths.
“We have to use the law in the quest for equity,” he insisted.
Valera said it might be time to test the law because the equity compensation bill also recognized, albeit belatedly, the veteran status of Filipino WWII soldiers and guerillas.
“As veterans of the US Armed Forces during World War II, they are entitled to the same benefits given to other veterans recognized by the US government and they can petition the courts to get what’s due them,” he told the Manila Mail.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
They agree that much more needs to be done for aging Filipino veterans.
They are hoping to pass the Filipino veterans family reunification bill during the few weeks left in Congress’ lame-duck session.
Ben de Guzman, NAFVE national coordinator, explained they are working closely with the DVA to ensure the successful implementation of the equity compensation bill.
“We seek to bridge the conversations in Washington DC to those that are happening in the community,” he said.
“We support the broader needs of our veterans and the equity compensation payments are only the tip of the iceberg,” declared Rozita Lee, NAFVE Executive Committee member and vice chair of the umbrella National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NAFFAA).
Melegrito said they have talked to supporters on Capitol Hill, to assuage those who might have been turned off by the law suits.
He also assured the Fil-Am community that they remain committed to addressing the needs of the widows and children of veterans.