Friday, November 25, 2011


Thousands of Filipino World War II veterans are hanging by a piece of paper that could spell the difference whether they receive compensation for a 6-decade-old injustice.

Eric Lachica, executive director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV), said the problem of more than 4,000 veterans whose applications for the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC) fund were rejected is no longer within the purview of the Department of Veterans Administration (VA) to resolve.

In a chance meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a Veterans Day breakfast event at the White House, Lachica said they sought his help to help arrange a meeting with Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

He said Panetta was aware of the Filipino veterans “especially the Philippine Scouts, there’s so many of them in California” but did not know about the plight of those left out of FVEC benefits.

ACFV executive director Eric Lachica with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the recent Veterans Day breakfast at the White House. Photo courtesy of Eric Lachica.

“He said he’ll look into it,” Lachica told the Manila Mail.

In a letter addressed to President Obama, ACFV president Patrick Ganio Sr. pointed out “All are in their 80s and 90s and are in frail health. Many are United States citizens. Most reside in the Philippines and are cared for by family members. Sadly, many have died and their surviving spouses have tirelessly pursued their claims under the FVEC law.”

Lachica said he handed the letter to the President’s military aide.

McHugh has control over the US Army personnel records, including those presumably destroyed by a fire at their main repository in St. Louis, Missouri in 1973. The National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) contains service information for US military personnel who served after World War I.

The fire destroyed about 80 percent of the records for US Army personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960. According to its website, they have not yet determined “exactly what was lost in the fire because there were no indices to the blocks of records involved”.

An estimated quarter of a million Filipino soldiers and guerillas who served and fought under the US Armed Forces during World War II were disenfranchised by an act of Congress in 1946. They have been fighting for recognition ever since.

“We are pursuing the appeals,” Lachica said, “the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has told us the problem lies in the recognition of these veterans and that will depend on the US Army confirming that they actually served.

As of Oct. 1, the VA said 42,713 applications were processed. Of these 9,334 were approved for Filipino veterans in the Philippines and 9,165 for Filipino veterans in the US. A total of 24,214 applications were rejected.

Philippine-based veterans were entitled to a single lump sum payment of $9,000 while those in the US stood to receive $15,000. The VA reported that $221 million from the FVEC has been paid out already.

Some 4,389 of those rejected have filed notices of disagreement (NODs) but of this number, only 193 cases have been reopened. After lodging a NOD, a claimant will be provided a hearing either through video conference or face-to-face meeting.

Lachica revealed that retired Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Philippine veterans office at the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC, has been pressing the NPRC for whatever records they could find to help the veterans.

He cited the case of Virginia-based Celestino Almeda, 94, who had original copies of his discharge papers and payroll records from the US Commonwealth Philippine Army but was still turned down because his name did not appear in the so-called Missouri List.

Almeda used those same documents to acquire US citizenship in the 1990s.

Lachica there is still about $44 million in the FVEC fund that could be used to pay the veterans. “That’s why we have to make sure the appeal process is resolved for most of our veterans who believe they are legitimate US veterans,” Lachica declared.

“We want to meet with the Secretary of the Army or his staff to ask them to review individually, case-by-case the paperwork of these 4,000 because if the Secretary of the Army will release a paper certifying they served based on the records, they will get the equity compensation,” he explained.

In addition, they continue to lobby for passage of the family reunification bill to speed up immigrant petitions filed by veterans for their children to join them in the US, and “medical portability” that will allow aging veterans to “carry” their Medicare benefits back to the Philippines if they wished to spend their remaining years there.

“They all go hand in hand,” Lachica said, conceding “We have our hands full”.

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