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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's administration pledged Wednesday to reach out to Filipinos seeking payments for World War II service after complaints from veterans over denied claims.
More than 250,000 Filipinos fought under the US flag in World War II but Congress later stripped them of promised benefits, leaving bitterness in the former colony and decades of campaigning to change US policy.
Weeks after Obama took office in 2009, Congress approved 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.
Obama aide Chris Lu, co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said that 18,000 claims have been approved.
"However, we also have heard from many Filipino veterans who have been impeded from filing claims or believe their claims were improperly denied," Lu wrote on a White House blog.
Lu said that the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Archives and Record Administration were setting up a working group to assess the issue and "ensure that all applications receive thorough and fair review."
"This is part of the Obama administration's ongoing efforts to honor the contributions of all veterans in their service to our country," he said.
The Philippine embassy in Washington immediately welcomed the White House announcement, calling it “a positive step that underscores the importance the United States places on the outstanding service rendered by Filipinos who fought under the American flag during the Second World War.”
“We would like to assure our veterans that the Philippine government will continue to exert strong efforts to convince US authorities to address the certification issue and grant them the benefits they deserve,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. said.
Community advocates said that thousands of veterans had their claims denied, usually because US authorities did not accept records from the Philippines, which were the former fighters' sole means to prove their service.
Some aging veterans also said it was unrealistic to file their claims in time for a February 16, 2010 deadline.
Retired Major General Delfin Lorenzana, head of the Office of Veterans Affairs at the Philippine embassy, said those disqualified make up 56 percent of the 43,083 surviving veterans who filed their claims under the compensation fund.
Lorenzana said the disqualification issue stemmed from the implementing guidelines issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011 requiring certification from the National Personnel Records Center that the names of veteran-claimants appear in both the Roster of Troops and the Discharge List prepared by the US Army at the end of the Second World War.
“Unfortunately, the claims of a large number of Filipino veterans were not processed because their names appear only in one list or the other but not both,” Lorenzana said. “What we are requesting the US government is for them to consider all sources of records and not just the two lists.”
Representative Jackie Speier, a member of Obama's Democratic Party whose California district has a large Asian American community, welcomed the latest administration effort, but said that Congress needed to do more and give Filipino veterans the same benefits that others enjoyed.
"Filipinos were American nationals when they fought in the war and they were promised full benefits by President Franklin D. Roosevelt," she said in a statement.
"A promise made should be a promise kept. We have broken our promise and it's time to make amends," she said.
The White House announcement comes ahead of November 6 national elections in which experts say that Asian Americans -- who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 -- could play a decisive role in close races. (with InterAksyon.com)
For more stories about Filipino war veterans, check this InterAksyon.com microsite: BATAAN DEATH MARCH