4:56 pm | Sunday, February 10th, 2013
LOS ANGELES — Aging Filipino veterans seeking benefits for their World War II services have decided to take their case to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court had ruled against them, the veterans’ lawyer said.
“The fight continues,” said lawyer Arnedo Valera, who received the decision on Friday (Saturday in Manila). “Sadly, the decision highlights the continued discrimination against our beloved veterans.”
The lawsuit filed by the veterans against the US Department of Veterans Affairs said the benefits granted to Filipino veterans were far below those received by US veterans, including pensions and health care.
More than 250,000 Filipinos fought for the United States during World War II and were promised equal treatment with American veterans after the war. But in 1946, the US Congress enacted the Rescission Act that took away full recognition of Filipino war veterans and stripped them of their benefits.
In 2009, the US Congress approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a stimulus package that included one-time payments of $15,000 to Filipino veterans in the United States and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines.
But the lawsuit, filed in the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in October 2010, said the claims of thousands of other veterans were rejected since records from the Philippines proving their services were not accepted by US authorities. The Department of Veterans Affairs required documentation from a federal registry in St. Louis, Missouri, where records were destroyed in a fire.
Some veterans also said it was unrealistic to get them to file their claims before the Feb. 16, 2010, deadline. The veterans also described as discriminatory a provision of the law that denied benefits to widows and other survivors of veterans who had died before Pres. Obama signed ARRA in February 2009.
In its decision, the federal appeals court upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit, saying there was no evidence that excluding the widows and other survivors of deceased veterans, as well as other limits on benefits, were discriminatory. It also said that to conserve funds, the government can provide fewer benefits for territorial residents as compared to US citizens.
But Valera argued that the veterans are now US citizens and that under ARRA they have been recognized as having served the US Armed Forces, placing them in equal footing with the other US veterans.
“So why are they not receiving the same benefits?” he asked.
“Because there is a serious constitutional issue and challenge based on the equal protection clause, we will go to the US Supreme Court. A historical injustice has been done to our veterans, and a historic decision by the Supreme Court can correct that.”
“We are running out of time. Our veterans are dying,” Valera said. “In the next few years, the last veterans of WWII could perish without seeing justice.”
He quoted 96-year-old veteran Felino Punsalan, who recently wrote a letter to Pres. Obama asking him to issue an executive order giving full recognition to the Filipino veterans: “As veterans, we do not beg for entitlement. We simply ask (for) the recognition that we earned with our sacrifice.”
Valera said he will file the case with the Supreme Court within the next 90 days.